September 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Michael NYMAN
  VIRGIN CDVE942 (7243 8 48207 2 5)   [41:43]
Crotchet   Amazon UK  Amazon USA

Michael Nyman's musical approach typically relies on the listener being in the appropriate mood, rather than prompting the listener with emotion. With its trendy melodies trotted out across the composer's Procrustean bed, "Wonderland" further demonstrates his system to proud effect. The underscore provides an easy listening album for upstarts.

The candid look at three sisters during a weekend in London is suitable material for this composer's method. The melodies catch one's ear; the main theme, especially, and the highlight arrives when Nyman plays that pinchbeck romantic tune on piano with the sort of smooth confidence one expects of a corporate executive, and seals the deal with the flair of a used car salesman. A second theme is either ingenious in its free and easy simplicity or laughable in its suitability for soap opera. A questionable third again brings to mind Ralph Vaughan Williams' famous advice to a twelve-tone composer: "If a tune should ever occur to you, don't hesitate to write it down." The styles balance each other.

The orchestral effects are challenging in unenlightening ways, however. What irks is the string writing; again, the Michael Nyman Band players saw away like confused woodsmen. This works interestingly in one populist cue, which takes the secondary theme on piano and turns it into a dance for vibrasity and tantara, but the rest tends to leave one feeling bamboozled for substance without style. The arrangements are a bad shell game; we know where the ball is at all times, but what Nyman is doing with the cups is still anyone's guess.

Nyman's "Wonderland" is among his most commercial-sounding works, which is not a bad thing. His music is surprisingly upbeat, and this time around merely trifles with minimalism, the noun he popularized in music critiques. The result is a score less monotonous than what I heard from him previously but nevertheless strangely non-specific. I suppose it depends on one's mood.

Jeffrey Wheeler



Jeffrey Wheeler


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