Michael NYMAN (1944-)
In Concert

1. Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds [6:03]
2. An Eye for Optical Theory [4:45]
3. Prawn Watching [3:04]
4. Time Lapse [4:35]
5. Nadia [4:30]
6. Molly [3:58]
7. Diary of Hate [2:38]
8. Diary of Love [3:09]
9. Against Constancy [3:00]
10. Come Unto These Yellow Sands [3:18]
11. Miranda [4:34]
12. The Musicologist Scores [21:32]
13. Wheelbarrow Walk [3:00]
14. Knowing the Ropes [6:50]
15. Water Dances [7:33]
16. In re Don Giovanni [3:39]
Orchestra & chorus, Michael Nyman Band
Picture format 16:9 NTSC; Sound format LPCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1; Region Code 0 (Worldwide)
rec. 2009
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 101487 [86:00]

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 Seen 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 and polite.

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
Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just music on his blog Kirkville (http://www.mcelhearn.com).

A nice performance of some thirty years of music, mostly from soundtracks.