Michael Nyman Concertos

Author: 
mharry

Michael Nyman Concertos

  • Double Concerto for Saxophone, Cello and Orchestra
  • Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra
  • Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings

There has been an unwelcome tendency in recent years for critics almost to begrudge Michael Nyman the enormous commercial success of his film score to The Piano and to forget how single-minded the composer had to be in the late-1970s and early-1980s to create the now famous Michael Nyman Band sound before it came to the attention of a wider audience with the release of The Draughtsman’s Contract.
Single-mindedness in the face of disapprobation is indeed the subject of the Trombone Concerto, which invokes the seventeenth-century idea of “rough music”, where a community would ostracize offending individuals by beating out a rude cacophony on old buckets, kettles and frying pans. A wide variety of metallic sounds accost the trombone soloist at various points of the concerto, cutting across the music of the rest of the ensemble to sometimes enthralling effect, but this is just one aspect of a rich and beautifully crafted score.
The Double Concerto, which was commissioned by the Japanese car manufacturer Mazda, is closer to what one would normally expect of Michael Nyman, but, paradoxically, its rhapsodic form and often abrupt transitions between sections make it more elusive than the Trombone Concerto. It never quite manages to fulfil the promise of its striking opening and the build-up towards the climax at the end of the concerto, often the highlight of a Michael Nyman work, seems here surprisingly misjudged, even after repeated listenings. Another disappointment is the extreme forward placing of the two amplified soloists, with the cello so close at one point that I actually felt impelled to adjust the balance of my speakers. It seems a shame that the orchestral sound should seem so recessed and lacking in colour, especially given the success of the Trombone Concerto in this regard.
Yet this is nothing compared to the recorded balance of the Harpsichord Concerto, where the soloist dominates proceedings to such an extent that this becomes a powerful expressive effect in itself. Once more I have doubts whether the piece actually hangs together as a whole, but the massive sound of the harpsichord and the implacable virtuosity of Elisabeth Chojnacka’s playing in the cadenza makes this performance gripping and memorable. To sum up, this is an interesting release which, although somewhat uneven in places, throws new light on the range of Michael Nyman’s music.'

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