Composed in 2001 for Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Shadowlines was George Benjamin’s first piano work in almost two decades. By turns gentle and explosive, intimate and monolithic, its six movements (all canons in different ways) form a continuous 15-minute structure of great drama. More often than not, Benjamin’s processes are hidden, and go beyond standard techniques of transposition and inversion; from ‘elastic’ canons, where lines expand, contract or fuse according to variable speeds, to a procedure of Benjamin’s own invention where melodic lines and chords pass through a simple intervallic code and emerge totally transformed. A bitter sequence of octatonic chords becomes a blues-like sequence of dominant 7ths, whilst a fierce, plangently chromatic two-part polyphony is transfigured into mild, pentatonic yodelling.
‘… the first major piano work of the 21st century… Technical rigour and ingenuity lie behind everything, as they do in Bach; but as in Bach, they disappear in the expression of feeling – the impression of the piece is of free fantasy.’
The Boston Globe (Richard Dyer), 22 July 2003