BENJAMIN Antara; HARVEY Song Offerings; BOULEZ Orchestral Works
All credit to Nimbus for this splendid contribution to contemporary music recordings, issued within a few months of the London performance of George Benjamin's Antara which it commemorates, and giving us the rare opportunity to hear modem British works alongside those from another country without changing discs.
Antara is the product of Benjamin's attempt to tame the subterranean technological dragons of IRCAM and, since its title is the Inca word for panpipes, we might expect the music to explore a deeply-felt tension between the primitive, open-air and healthily folk-like, and that hermetic, code-controlled computational facility over which Boulez presides in Paris, where (allegedly) intellect is all and instinct is frowned on. Benjamin's music is not devoid of tension, but the effect of Antara (especially in the revised fomm recorded here) is entirely positive and, in the best sense of the word, serious. There is no recourse to nalve contrasts between exotic sound effects and print-outs from the electro-acoustic numbers game, but rather—whatever the difficulties encountered by the composer en route an evident relish for the potential revealed when instruments (panpipes included) and computers interact. Spontaneity and calculation may occasionally be at odds in the work's later stages, but the invention is generally of so high a quality that minor reservations about structure are of little account.
Jonathan Harvey's Song Offerings makes an excellent companion-piece to Antara. Here the exotic starting point is Indian, mystical love poems by Tagore set in English, and rightly, since Harvey's music has its sources deep within the Western tradition, however alert its openness to other cultures. The vocal writing, negotiated with character as well as conviction by Penelope Walmsley-Clark, is economical and pithy, and it is complemented by brilliantly imagined instrumental colours. This is music of great energy and sensuality, and offers a valuable reminder of what Harvey can achieve.
The pair of recent Boulez miniatures, not recorded before, comes between the two English works, and although less ambitious in fomm than either, Derive and Memoriale are characteristically wily and subtle in design and tone-colour. The works by Boulez and Harvey were recorded in The Maltings at Snape, and some refinements of detail (especially in Derive) may have got swallowed up in that spacious Suffolk acoustic. But the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London recording of Antara is admirably lifelike. With exemplary performances this is an excellent issue by any standards.'