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George Benjamin: Into the Little Hill
By Bejun Mehta
By Bejun Mehta, George Benjamin, Hila Plitmann, London Sinfonietta, Martin Crimp, Nederlands Kamerkoor, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Susan Bickley, and Michael Cox. By George Benjamin. Classical. CD. Nimbus Records #NI5964. Published by Nimbus Records (NX.NI5964).
Item Number: NX.NI5964
Written in his late teens: Flight, for solo flute, whose swooping crests and curlicues are fervently relished in Michael Cox's performance. Benjamin describes the piece as 'inspired by the sight of birds soaring and dipping over the peaks of the Swiss Alps'. Listening to the piece you'll hear a panoply of songs surfing the musical thermals in the alpine either: low, long-breathed cries and calls, filigree flocks of ornamentation in the atmospheric heights of the flute's register, a chorus of vapors conjured by a single instrument. Into The Little Hill is based on the Pied Piper story, allowing audiences an immediate entry point into the opera's dramaturgy. But Crimp's re-telling simultaneously updates the story, with its politicians, photographs, and limousines, and opens up further mythic dimensions to the narrative. The drama of Into the Little Hill is concisce, clear and simultaneously ambiguous, even chilling. Benjamin says, 'Martin's text is hard-edged, formal, and hyper-condensed'. The reason for its musical and dramatic success is Benjamin's unerring feeling for expressive characterisation. Each layer of Into the Little Hill's score is immediately identifiable, from the Crowd's baying cries of 'Kill them' rightat the start of the piece, to the rodentine scurrying of the rat's music, and the Mother's lamenting grief in the last scene. Dream of the Song is a mysteriously sensual and sensually strange song-cycle for countertenor, a halo of female voices that are similar in register, but so different in timbre and sound and expression, and orchestra. The counter-tenor sings poems, in English, by Jewish poets of 11th century Andalucia, themselves inspired by Arabic poetry of earlier centuries. There are images of ravishment and wonder here - moonlight, the celestial tent of the sky, a dream of a gazelle, a harp, a flute - but they are always undercut by other ideas. Above all, it's the gossamer rapier of Benjamin's music that cuts to the heart of these settings.