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Michael Nyman: Marie Angel (soprano), Sarah Leonard (soprano), the Michael Nyman Band, Cadogan Hall, London, 6.6.2008 (BBr)

The Band memebers are:
Gabrielle Lester (violin), Cathy Thompson (violin), Kate Musker (viola), Tony Hinnigan (cello), Martin Elliott (bass guitar), David Roach (soprano and alto saxophones), Simon Haram (soprano and alto saxophones), Andy Findon (baritone saxophone, flute and piccolo), Nigel Gomm (trumpet), Dave Lee (horn), Nigel Barr (trombone and euphonium), Michael Nyman (piano)

Michael Nyman:
For Kiyan Prince (world première of new arrangement: 2008)
Bird List Song (1979)
Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds and An Eye for the Optical Theory (The Draughtsman’s Contract) (1982)
Car Crash, Time Lapse and Vermeer’s Wife (A Zed and Two Noughts) (1985)
Come unto these Yellow Sands and Miranda (Prospero’s Books) (1991)
Memorial (The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover) (1989)
8 Lust Songs: I Sonetti Lussuriosi (2007)

Always a lover of the beautiful game, Nyman was especially horrified when talented 15 year old footballer Kiyan Prince was knifed to death two years ago. The senseless loss of a young life, and one which robbed the game of a rising star, gave rise to a piece for the New London Children's Choir, which Nyman specially arranged for tonight’s concert with the Band. Moving, in its utmost simplicity, For Kiyan Prince is a lament, perhaps
Caoine [an Irish lamnet for the dead. Ed] is a better description of the music,  for such is the depth of feeling, which left the audience breathless for the beauty of the utterance and the senseless horror of the act.

Then it was down to business. The film excerpts are well enough known these days but it’s always good to welcome them in concert. What with CD, DVD and, in the dim and distant past, video, recordings of this music it’s easy to forget just what a stir the score for the Draughtman’s Contract caused when it first appeared. I was once again thrilled at the sheer ostentation of the music – Chasing Sheep is such a bold move; the old and the new freshly minted. The music for A Zed and Two Noughts was always more difficult stuff, and these three excerpts came as a shock after the easy going “Stuart boogie” of the Contract. Nyman and his Band gave solid performances – led by the wonderfully fruity baritone sax of Andy Findon – and they were joined by the ever dependable Sarah Leonard for pieces from, probably, my favourite Nyman score Prospero’s Books.

But it wasn’t the film pieces I really wanted to hear. Memorial (“loaned”, according to Nyman, to Greenaway for The Cook etc) brought us back to the beautiful game. Written in memory of the 41 Juventus fans who died at the Heysel Stadium disaster of 29 May 1985, this is a long, arching, and aching, melody, full of intensity, which is simply suspended in the air as it goes round and round, finally adding the voice in one last act of defiance against the utter futility of what happened.

After the interval we had the treat of the evening. Last December I had the great, good  pleasure to welcome
I Sonetti Lussuriosi at its première. That performance, though good, left something to be desired but now, after several performances, the Band and soloist Marie Angel, has the music well in hand and this performance was excellent. This music shows a new side of Nyman. Gone is the hard, funky, piano-driven rock-based work – this is a piece full of a warm Italian glow, with great lyricism to the fore. The lines are long and fulsome, truly singable, and the accompaniment is warm and luscious, with full sustained chords, thick, but not cloying, and textured to suit both the voice and the settings. Despite the subject matter – we need not go into the meaning of the words here – these are not lust songs for Nyman has elevated the text and written modern love songs. Marie Angel was totally at home in her role, acting, as well as singing, the wanton (red shoes to proved the point) but the amplification didn’t give her sufficient opportunity for expression. My favourite? No.7 with its bell effects is a knock out.

Last December I called these songs a work of genius and after hearing them again I know that I was right in my judgment. This is simply the very, very best of Michael Nyman in a new, rich, vein of lyricism which I hope he will continue to exploit.

Bob Briggs

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