György LIGETI (1923-2006)
Lontano for Large Orchestra (1967) [11:37]
Tristan MURAIL (b. 1947)
Le Désenchantement Du Monde - Concerto Symphonique Pour Piano et Orchestre (2011/2012) [30:54]*
George BENJAMIN (b. 1960)
Palimpsests for Orchestra (1998-2002)
Palimpsest I (Viertel = 88) [8:31]
Palimpsest II (Viertel = 112) [11:11]
Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)*
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/George Benjamin
rec. live, Musica Viva concert, Herkulessaal der Residenz, Munich, 2-4 May 2012, premiere*
NEOS SACD 11422 [62:17]

Lontano has been well served on CD over the years, and listening to this gripping, atmospheric canvas one can understand why. In 1961 Ligeti composed Atmosphères, which is a series of static sound evolutions. Lontano dates from 1967 and delves into this micropolyphonic sound-world once again. It’s a sort of exploration and continuous transformation of orchestral timbres. This was Ligeti’s alternative to serial music, where music lines overlap, move in different tempos and directions and form what are termed tone-clusters. Throughout Lontano there is a mesmerizing build-up of tension, and this must surely have attracted Stanley Kubrick, who used it in his film The Shining. The composer himself described it as the opening and closing of ‘a window on long submerged dream worlds of childhood’. It is here given a sumptuously vital reading. Benjamin creates exactly the right eerie atmosphere, teasing out the individual orchestral lines so that they emerge with startling clarity. The result is a truly enthralling performance which stands with the best.

This is my first encounter with the music of Tristan Murail, associated with the ‘spectral’ technique of composition. He studied at the Paris Conservatory, where he was a pupil of Olivier Messiaen. Le Désenchantement du Monde - Concerto Symphonique pour Piano et Orchestre is here receiving its world premiere. A technically challenging work for conductor, soloist and orchestral players, the complexities are admirably met in this virile account. The composer’s brilliant and colourful orchestration adds to the work’s allure. It begins dramatically with a barrage of sound, Murail painting a strikingly vibrant and visceral landscape. Eventually the music settles and becomes dreamy and reflective, only to erupt again near the end. Aimard, who is kept busy throughout, delivers a dazzling performance, and achieves some bewitching pianistic colours. George Benjamin steers the players through the peaks and troughs of the, at times, tortuous narrative, exacting a wide dynamic range, all adding to the music’s potency. The earth-shattering climaxes are spell-binding. Aimard, himself, has said: Tristan Murail is a poet whose music speaks to our ears, our eyes and our heart.

George Benjamin was also a pupil of Messiaen and his wife Yvonne Loriod. He then went on to complete his studies with Alexander Goehr in Cambridge, UK. Palimpsest I was premiered in 2000 to mark the 75th birthday of Pierre Boulez. Palimpsest II came later, and both were played together for the first time in 2002 under the baton of Boulez. A palimpsest is a manuscript on which later writing has been superimposed, effacing earlier text. Eventually only remnants of the original show through. The scores of both works are a panoply of ingenuity and invention. Benjamin achieves a variety of stunning sonorities, with a myriad spectrum of tints and shades. Palimpsest II is cast in a darker and sombre vein, and at 4:46 the luminosity and diaphanous quality of the string writing has exceptional appeal.

All three works were recorded live over three concerts in May 2012. The sound has a rewarding depth and clarity. For me this is a release that pays rich dividends.
Stephen Greenbank

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