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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nyman Concertos, 21 Jun 2012
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This review is from: Nyman: Concertos - British Composers (Audio CD)
There are certain people who seem to be able to talk incessantly without pausing for breath. Flick a switch and they run like a tap, flick it again and they suddenly stop, almost in mid-sentence. The musical equivalent of this phenomenon is Michael Nyman. Best-known for his film scores, Nyman purports to be able to turn his hand to classical forms such as string quartets and concertos. But there seems to me to be all the difference between classical composers such as Alwyn and Arnold who also compose film music - usually to earn a crust - and film composers who try their hand at classical works. In the former case there is a difference in sound and tenor between the "serious", often abstract works, and film scores which of necessity must be programmatic. In the latter case, however, there is often little detectable difference between the composer's film scores and the so-called "serious" compositions. This EMI re-issue of three of Nyman's concertos certainly proves this to be the case where he is concerned. The same welter of ceaseless sound and rhythm is as characteristic of these as of his film music. True, the Nyman sound is distinctive, and attractive to some - including me, in small doses. The problem is that concertos do not usually come in small doses.

The three concertos here - for saxophone and cello (perhaps a unique double), for harpsichord and strings, and for trombone and orchestra (another rarity) -all follow a similar pattern. There are no traditional movements, but sections marked by changes of key and tempo (the banding on the disc was done according to Nyman's wishes). These changes can be quite subtle, and for the most part the music is fast, loud and noisy. In the Trombone Concerto, for instance, Nyman at one point calls on three percussionists to bang away on metal filing cabinets, and by his own admission uses the orchestra to drown out the soloist. In a sense this is an anti-concerto, because it reacts against the traditional view that the solo instrument should be allowed to shine, even when it is in opposition to the orchestra.

The Concerto for Harpsichord, which is a little more restrained at times, is perhaps more in tune with Nyman's breathless "perpetuo" style, because it comes into its own as a continuo instrument, and is used to that effect in this piece. The slower passages, such as they are, are not generally sustained, and do not present much by way of contrast. One feels that Nyman is just itching to get back to his usual breakneck tempo. Neither does he seem to appreciate the importance of silence and contemplation in music. It is almost as if he thinks that something catastrophic will happen if the sound stops, even for a few seconds. Yet there are a few surprise moments - even moments of revelation - such as the sudden eruption of Purcell's Funeral Music for Queen Mary in the Trombone Concerto.

It may be that Nyman's music, rather like that of Philip Glass and other former minimalists, is an acquired taste, and I still feel that the muic on this recording is essentially film music which the composer has chosen to label "concerto". Still, his musicianship is unquestionable, and the esteem in which he is held by his fellow musicians is exemplified by the fact that the soloists on this disc are of the highest order - John Harle (saxophone), Julian Lloyd Webber (cello), Christian Lindberg (trombone) and Elisabeth Chojnacka (harpsichord). The orchestral forces (Philharmonia, BBC S.O., Michael Nyman String Orchestra) offer sterling support, with Nyman himself conducting.
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Nyman: Concertos - British Composers
Nyman: Concertos - British Composers by Michael Nyman (Audio CD - 2011)
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