Classical CD Reviews
MICHAEL NYMAN: ‘Sangam’ = Three Ways of Describing Rain; Compiling the Colours – Michael Nyman Ens./Misra vocal ens.– MN Records
Published on December 29, 2012
MICHAEL NYMAN: ‘Sangam’ = Three Ways of Describing Rain; Compiling the Colours – Michael Nyman Ens./ Misra vocal ens.– MN Records MNRCD119, 59:08 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Michael Nyman has held an interest in the music and culture of India since first hearing some traditional Hindu music in the late 1970’s and into the ‘80s while serving as a music critic in London.
Certainly, Nyman’s own music is infused with patterns of rhythm and melody (his own brand of minimalism, really) and is not that far off, philosophically, from tabla playing and ragas. Nyman decided in December of 2000 to take a month-long visit to India to learn more, first hand.
This album is a direct result of that journey. He traveled all over the country, visiting several different regions and absorbing their particular sound. Previously, Nyman had used Indian rhythmic systems in his String Quartet No. 2, modeled after traditional dance patterns.
While in India, he became very familiar with the highly skilled traditional Khayal vocalists, the Misra family, heard here. Three Ways of Describing Rain is, in fact, a true compilation work; written by Nyman as an ensemble piece on themes taught and performed by the Misra. The “three ways” of the title correspond to the Hindu view of nature (rain, literally, and specifically) and are called Sawan (First Rain), Rang (Colour of Nature) and Dhyan (Meditation). This is a quite beautiful piece and the blend between the traditional vocals and Nyman’s own trademark propulsive swaying is best heard toward the end of Sawan, but permeates the work. If one is not familiar with the microtonal and melismatic (almost jittery sounding) style of Khayal singing, be patient and listen a couple of times; it is worth your efforts.
Compiling the Colours is another collaboration; this time with locally famous electric mandolin player, Shrinivas. The work’s subtitle, Samhitha, is actually the word chosen by Shrinivas for the approach to the work and translates into “compiling the colors.” The style here is very nearly an improvisation. The work begins with a long meditative mandolin cadenza (of sorts) that Nyman’s writing softly – at first – plays upon. This work is a healthy thirty-one minutes and really feels improvisatory throughout. Here too, there is a patience required when listening for it does take a long time between sections that seem like modulation and diversity but it is, ultimately, worth the wait.
I enjoyed this album a great deal but I would offer this advice. If one is not at all familiar with the music of Michael Nyman, this is probably not the place to start. It is just atypical enough of what he usually does and I suggest looking into his chamber music or film scores first. Similarly, if you do not know any traditional Indian music, this is indicative enough, but not totally “authentic.”
I do think most listeners would get something out of this to enjoy and for the true MN fan; this is an essential addition.