London Sinfonietta/Benjamin, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

George Benjamin was back at the London Sinfonietta with three programmes - the second actually given by the Arditti Quartet - celebrating this now seminal figure as "composer, conductor and pianist". The repertoire was Benjamin's familiar one: continental European avant-garde, and a few sympathetic Brits thrown in.

George Benjamin was back at the London Sinfonietta with three programmes - the second actually given by the Arditti Quartet - celebrating this now seminal figure as "composer, conductor and pianist". The repertoire was Benjamin's familiar one: continental European avant-garde, and a few sympathetic Brits thrown in.

And Benjamin himself, of course; though in the course of the three evenings, only two solo pieces by him, both from 2001, were heard. At least Shadowlines, subtitled "Six Canonic Preludes for Piano", was a substantial 15-minute composition, beautifully played by the composer himself.

Central to the opening programme were two other works: one new, one a rarely heard classic of modernism. The new piece was by Unsuk Chin, the Korean-born, Berlin-based composer. She is held in high regard, and last year won the Grawemeyer Award for her Violin Concerto. Cantatrix Sopranica, for two sopranos, countertenor and 17 players, will surely add lustre to her reputation as one of the most imaginative purveyors of a modernism that is at once colourful, witty and of real substance. Inspired by the surrealist imagination of the writer Georges Perec, Cantatrix Sopranica offers eight songs for this delightfully top-heavy vocal trio (here, the excellent Anu and Piia Komsi and Andrew Watts) and an ensemble including many unusual percussion instruments.

Chin also draws on a poem in French by the American Harry Mathews, a Tang dynasty text and words that describe the musical action of their own "self-referential 'singing experiments'". From its opening number, with its skittishly inventive, happily euphonious gloss on tuning and vocal ululation, to the last, which treats the voices as both instruments and theatrical characters, the work is sheer delight.

The night's classic was Pierre Boulez's rarely heard Eclat/Multiples, with its audacious rituals involving prominent solo piano (John Constable) and, among other things, a whole symphony orchestra's worth of violas. We also heard the Swiss composer Beat Furrer's fast and furious, magnificently ambiguous still.

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