George Benjamin may be cited together Dukas and Ravel, composers greatly respected by Benjamin’s own master Olivier Messiaen, as they share the distinction of having paramount knowledge of the orchestra, of harmony and form. George Benjamin’s works are carefully thought out and always mature. For Wolfgang Rihm, expression in his rhapsody tells the cruel mythical tale of Marsyas.
Since Dance Figures written sixteen years ago George Benjamin had composed no works for orchestra only, for opera and chamber opera have dominated the recent period. His latest virtuoso work, composed as a single uninterrupted movement, gives each section of the orchestra a key moment.
A sorcerer’s apprentice may ambitiously hope to extract powers from a broom that are not there to be had; there can be children’s verse, and figures taken from the pages of Perrault’s fairy tales, all encouraging the composer to simplify his approach, and then two masterpieces appear: a scherzo by Dukas, famous for whirling magical effects, and a magnificent and quintessential suite by Ravel.
Wolfgang Rihm explores the realms of Greek mythology, finding the tale of Marsyas who challenged Apollo, but lost, and met a cruel fate, tied to a tree and flayed alive, causing nymphs and shepherds to weep, their tears flowing to form the clear and bountiful river of Phrygia.