Classical CD Reviews

MICHAEL NYMAN, “Chamber Music Vol. 1 (Piano Trios 1992-2010)” = Poczatek; The Photography of Chance; Yellow Beach; Time Will Pronounce – The Fidelio Trio – MN Records
MICHAEL NYMAN, “Chamber Music Vol. 2 (String Quartets 1 – 3)” – Balanescu Quartet – MN Records

Two new additions to the MN collection illustrate his eclectic talent.

Published on December 29, 2012

MICHAEL NYMAN, “Chamber Music Vol. 1 (Piano Trios 1992-2010)” = Poczatek; The Photography of Chance; Yellow Beach; Time Will Pronounce – The Fidelio Trio – MN Records</br>    MICHAEL NYMAN, “Chamber Music Vol. 2 (String Quartets 1 – 3)” – Balanescu Quartet – MN Records

MICHAEL NYMAN, “Chamber Music Vol. 1 (Piano Trios 1992-2010)” = Poczatek; The Photography of Chance; Yellow Beach; Time Will Pronounce – The Fidelio Trio – MN Records (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) MNRCD120, 63:31 ****:

MICHAEL NYMAN, “Chamber Music Vol. 2 (String Quartets 1 – 3)” – Balanescu Quartet – MN Records (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) MNRCD124, 63:08 ****:

Many listeners are already familiar with Michael Nyman through his film scores, especially the more recent works that illustrate a soft, beautiful and reflective side to Nyman’s output; in particular the film scores to The Piano, Carrington and The Claim are very fine examples.

Originally, Nyman was a Renaissance man: a music critic and writer, a photographer and a composer of extended bombastic works, written in a style that might be described as a form of rock minimalism and which frequently provided a pounding morphology of Baroque style, such as Handel.

I have followed Nyman for several decades now and find his work consistently fascinating and attractive. These new chamber music collections, on Nyman’s own label, provide a wonderful example of his music that lies somewhere in between the “mainstream” film scores and the aggressive brass and saxophone-infused works.

The Piano Trios disc offers particular delights, in that these are well-crafted works that are decidedly less familiar than much of his output. Poczatek is actually extracted from a film score taken from some mid-1950s and ‘60s Polish films that Nyman himself chose and edited to make a single thematic work. The Photography of Chance has a similarly intriguing history. Written for the Ahn Trio in 2004, this was intended as a celebration of the scenery and bird life in Utah. This is a beautiful and serene work that uses some snippets of birdcall melody.

Yellow Beach was also written for the Ahn Trio and is a short charming take on some music that originally existed as part of Nyman’s film score to Prospero’s Books. Time Will Pronounce has been arranged and recorded by Nyman’s own ensemble a few different times. The piano trio is the original permutation, written for the Trio of London in 1992. It takes its title from a line from a Joseph Brodsky poem that addresses the atrocities in Bosnia from the same time period. This is one of Nyman’s finest pieces and has moments of sheer beauty tinged with sadness.

This disc is very worth having. The Fidelio Trio (Darragh Morgan, violin, Robin Michael, cello and Mary Dullea, piano) performs wonderfully.

The three String Quartets were actually first recorded by the Balanescu Quartet, for whom they were written, on Argo in 1991. Collectively they are very interesting and make a very fine way to get to know the “classical” side of Nyman. They also make excellent additions to the contemporary string quartet repertory.

String Quartet No. 1 from 1985 has a particularly compelling sound and an interesting genealogy. Nyman was given a copy of the keyboard works of John Bull by his teacher, musicologist Thurston Dart. Nyman took the Bull variations on the song “Walsingham” and composed an extended set of interconnected variations of his own, but the segments that owe direct lineage to Bull are interspersed with the composer’s treatment of sections from the Schoenberg String Quartet No. 2 as well as two movements (called “Michael Nyman 1 and 2”) that the composer acknowledges are not connected to anything from Bull or Schoenberg. This is a fascinating work that takes this bold premise to create something that, ultimately, sounds very idiomatic of Nyman.

The Quartet No. 2 takes its inspiration from the rhythms and movements of a Bharata Natyam dancer Nyman saw at a London studio. (Influences of Indian music will find their way into many other Nyman works since this introduction in the early 1908s) The composer says he used a string quartet intentionally because of its ability to sharply delineate rhythm patterns and bits of melody influenced by raga without the distractions of varied timbres.

The third Quartet began as a choral work, Out of the Ruins, written to commemorate the victims of an Armenian earthquake. The string quartet arrangement, on request from Alexander Balanescu, was agreed to after Nyman saw first hand the difficulties of the Romanian people under Ceausescu. (Sections of this work later found their way into Nyman’s film score to Carrington)

These two discs are both excellent ways to get to know the music of Michael Nyman. It is hard to imagine anyone unfamiliar with his music would not like these works. For the true Nymanophile, these are essential additions and illustrate what an eclectic talent he is.

—Daniel Coombs




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