When I reviewed a documentary called Michael Nyman - Composer
in Progress (review)
I regretted that there were no performances included with the
film. This DVD is that missing disc. Sold separately, or in
a two-disc edition with the documentary, this tells you as much
about Nyman’s music as the documentary does. The brief extracts
included in the documentary are too limited for those unfamiliar
with Nyman to appreciate the diversity of his music.
The concert recorded here, from Studio Halle in 2009, is a sort
of “best of” Nyman’s work, at least that which is the most accessible.
It opens with two tracks that were used in the soundtrack of
Peter Greenaway’s Draughtsman’s Contract, the music that
got him noticed. This is followed by two tracks that were used
in Greenaway’s A Zed and Two Noughts, then two tracks
from Michael Winterbottom’s Wonderland. Then come two
tracks from Nyman’s soundtrack to the Neil Jordan film The
End of the Affair – a great movie, that. A track from the
Laurence Dunmore film The Libertine, follows, then two
tracks from Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books.
After this coverage of Nyman’s soundtrack music comes a long
work - here it is over 21 minutes - called The Musicologist
Scores. The world premiere of this work, commissioned by
the BBC, and performed at the Proms in 2009, was reviewed by
and Heard. This is a boisterous and energetic piece - a
bit of a departure for Nyman. As the Seen and Heard reviewer
pointed out, it points back to Purcell and Handel, and has a
big band sound. There’s also a bit of late Steve Reich in the
rhythmic back-and-forth of the instruments at times.
Back to soundtracks, the band plays two pieces from Greenaway’s
Drowning by Numbers, then Water Dances, the latter
written for a short film by Greenaway. The concert ends with
In re Don Giovanni, Nyman’s first concert work for his
band, recorded way back in 1981.
So this concert covers much of Nyman’s career, but leaves out
his biggest “hit,” the soundtrack for The Piano, which
was a massive best-seller. It also leaves out all the other,
wonderful, non-soundtrack music that Nyman composed over the
years, from solo piano to string quartets, to concertos and
more. In a way, it’s a shame that this concert is a series of
well-known bits that found their audience through films. Not
to denigrate soundtracks, but Nyman has composed much more music
that might have been a bit more challenging.
Nyman’s band is tight; most of the musicians have been members
a very long time, and understand Nyman and his music. The sound,
alas, is muddy and at times strident - the wind and brass instruments
are a bit too loud - but overall it is acceptable. The camera-work
is interesting, and in this anonymous space, Studio Halle, a
film studio, not a concert hall, the audience is restrained
Certainly, any fan of Nyman’s work should get this DVD, but
should also be aware that the selection of music is narrow,
and limited, essentially, to excerpts from soundtracks. The
performances are a bit strict and sterile, but your foot will
tap a bit to some familiar melodies.
Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just music on his blog