Concert Review - Geoff Brown Prom 54: Michael Nyman Band at the Albert Hall/ Radio 3
Times : Aug 27th, 2009
If the Proms are a record of Britain’s musical life, then who can deny a late-night place to the Michael Nyman Band? For more than 30 years Nyman’s propulsive music has been filling concert venues and soundtracks. But never the Albert Hall, that Victorian arena where sounds circle like Roman chariots, fanned by a generous echo. Was this the same space where, an hour earlier, Roger Norrington and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment stripped the vibrato from Mendelssohn? Now, raucous brass, strings and pounding piano bubbled like molten chocolate through chunks of what still remains Nyman’s best exhibit, the film score for The Draughtsman’s Contract, cleverly ransacked from Purcell. Definite fun, even when the acoustic turned hiccupping syncopations into fuzz.
Unfortunately, from that high point Nyman’s Prom debut drifted downhill. His art is a limited one and those constrictions proved too audible in the new The Musicologist Scores. This BBC commission ransacked more Purcell (Handel, too), but with reduced ingenuity and a big dollop of déjà vu. Against chugging rhythms, themselves Baroque derived, noble quotations rang out, including Handel’s Ombra mai fù, delivered in the earlier Prom, whole and beautiful, by Joyce DiDonato.
Nyman’s band, superb musicians, were beautiful in their own way, but his wonky structure of stacked-up blocks proved no way to sustain a 20-minute piece. What we needed was extra portions from Nyman’s settings of Paul Celan’s post-Holocaust poetry — music of personal anguish, not mere pattern-making. But from his Six Celan Songs we heard only two, glowering, juddering, angular, delivered with smoky passion by the soprano Anu Komsi, mike in hand. She was also featured, up in the stratosphere, in the wailing funeral of Memorial, where she memorably entered too soon and had to retreat. But that’s an occupational hazard when the music, very modestly expressive, is one long repeat.