By Neil Cooper, The List
Long before his soundtrack for Jane Campion’s The Piano, Michael Nyman’s very English form of baroque minimalism had impeccable art school credentials. Following his debut on Brian Eno’s Obscure label, this 1981 follow-up five years later was produced by Flying Lizard and Nyman’s former student David Cunningham.
By Andy Gill, The Independent, 13 January, 2012
This reissue of Michael Nyman’s second album from 1981 – effectively his first with a Michael Nyman Band that included Alexander Balanescu and Roderick Skeaping – has aged well.
Its industriously cycling Anglo-minimalism, couched in strings and reeds, is redolent of early Peter Greenaway films: “Bird List Song” is lovely, silly and serious the same time, like the film for which it was written, The Falls. The serio-comic tone helps sustain the music’s appeal, compared to the joylessness of much American minimalism: this is music full of affirmative bustle, aware of its lurking pomposity, and not afraid to embrace the free-jazz squawks of Evan Parker and Peter Brötzmann on “Waltz”.
Nyman does fashion a witty, entertaining piece…
It’s a work of many incidental pleasures – the insidiously catchy “Leonardo says” aria in Act I, or the resuscitated Goya asking the scientists why he couldn’t have been left in peace in the third act. Contralto Hilary Summers’s low contralto is perfect for the key role of the Art Banker, and the small multitasking supporting cast, notably sopranos Winnie Böwe and Marie Angel, are excellent. Nyman’s own chamber ensemble provides punchy, incisive backing under the composer’s direction in a reissue of a recording dating from 2003.
—Graham Rickson, The Arts Desk