Concert Review - Hannah Nepil BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London
Financial Times : Aug 28th, 2009
Even for a man often credited with being the first to talk of minimalism in music, more than 40 years ago, a Proms debut couldn’t help but be a high-pressure enterprise. That Michael Nyman is the best-known British minimalist composer only intensified the sense of expectation – he had, after all, had to wait a long time for his own Prom. Nevertheless,But in the late-night slot on Tuesday, Britain’s best-known minimalist composer and his band seemed anything but nervous.
Nyman’s stamp was evident in the programming – the Michael Nyman Band played Michael Nyman music with Michael Nyman on the piano – but came to the forefront in the performance. Though the band is renowned for its energy-charged performances, the players sounded as though they had been saving themselves for this occasion all year.
Excerpts of Nyman’s film scores – the result of his 1980s collaborations with director Peter Greenaway – showcased both the band’s raw, folky sound and Nyman’s ability to merge classical minimalism with pop vigour. Pieces from The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and her Lover and The Draughtsman’s Contract were pounded out. The players coated their Purcell-inspired melodic motifs in shrill rasps, and vigorous
head-banging completed the picture. But while the style gave the film music mesmerising vibrancy, it undermined the poignancy of Paul Celan’s poetry in the Six Celan Songs. Fortunately, soprano Anu Komsi provided a plangent note.
The world premiere of Nyman’s The Musicologist Scores layered citations from Handel and Purcell over slowly evolving harmonies. The work acknowledges David Drew, the late musicologist who helped to influence Nyman’s career, and its melodic fragments took on an indulgent quality. Occasionally this bordered on sentimentality but Nyman’s rhythmic insistence provided enough tension to rescue them from this fate. ★★★☆☆