I would not have bought this CD - the reissue on the composer's own label of an Argo disc published in 1994, Piano Concerto / Musique a Grande Vitesse - if it hadn't cost 2 euros. I am not very well inclined towards the kind of repetitive minimalism of which the champions are Glass, Reich and Adams in the US, and Glass' clone Michael Nyman in the UK. It is not the repetition I take exception with - as everybody, I enjoy Ravel's Bolero tremendously - it is the trite, predictable and sacchhrine harmonies that usually go with it. I'll leave it to musicologists to say if there is something inherent to repetition that necessitates those harmonic progressions for corny movies, or if its only, on the part of the composers, laziness and commercialism - but I do suspect it is the second option, as there is repetitive music WITHOUT the trite harmonies - just hear Ravel's Bolero again.
Anyway, going to the REAL store once in a while - provided there are some left close to where you live - can be a boon; your savings on the postage cost easily compensates for the two subway tickets, and bargains are steals. So, for two euros, what did I have to loose - except an hour of listening time, and some more in writing time?
It turns out that I enjoyed at least the first piece on the disc, MGV, more than I'd like to admit. Sure, it is harmonically very predictable and simplistic, and some passages sound like a soundtrack for Hollywood. But there is a relentless motoric exuberance, a fireworks of instrumental colors that I found quite uplifting, at least for one hearing.
A few facts: MGV - Musique à Grande Vitesse, High-Speed Music - was commissioned for the inauguration of the TGV's North European Line in 1993 in Lille - the TGV is the French High Speed Train, or Train of Great Velocity as it was dubbed when construction in Texas was being considered, and its North European line is the one leading to the Channel Tunnel and from there to London, and to Brussels and from there to Germany .It is a 25-minute piece - shorter than the time needed to reach London from Lille.
In Nyman's The Piano Concerto, the important word is "The": it is an elaboration in Concerto form from the music written by the composer for Jane Campion's movie "The Piano", so you might think of it as "Concerto The Piano". It was premiered on the same concert with MGV, so it is appropriate that the two works should be paired together on disc. That said, it displays less motoric energy (there are less than three minutes of it in the penultimate movement, The Hut, based on a Scottish popular song) and sparkling colors, and more trite and sentimental tunes and harmonies, sometimes embarrassingly so. Appalling - and there is over half an hour of it! - but quite what I expected from Nyman, while hoping NOT to encounter it. Have we really gone through five or six centuries of painstaking efforts from the composers of every generation to write music that was harmonically, rhythmically, melodically, instrumentally highly elaborate, each building on the achievements of all their predecessors, only to reach this result? A sad thought.
I haven't seen the Jane Campion movie, but this is a real disincentive. On the other hand, I might consider a trip to London. Maybe I can regain the half-hour lost on The Piano Concerto.