This is a good way to get a glimpse of one of the most interesting composers of the last few decades, and one who has always made music his own way, performing with his own ensemble: the Michael Nyman Band, a group of a dozen musicians.
This two-DVD set offers a fine introduction to the life and work of contemporary British composer-performer Michael Nyman, best known for his film scores. The first disc features filmmaker Silvia Beck’s biographical portrait Michael Nyman—Composer in Progress, which includes much quasi-autobiographical material drawn from interviews with Nyman (as well as footage of the composer traveling and going about his daily routine), along with excerpts from conversations with relatives and colleagues. Nyman’s cinematic work is documented via clips from films including Peter Greenaway’s The Draughtsman’s Contract, Jane Campion’s The Piano, and Volker Schlöndorff’s The Ogre, but only Schlöndorff discusses Nyman’s contribution. The documentary appropriately closes with reference to Nyman’s recent forays into video art and an appearance of the Michael Nyman Band at London’s famed Proms concerts—a central event in England’s cultural life—which underscores Nyman’s acceptance into the British musical establishment. The second DVD serves up a 2009 performance in Halle, Germany (Handel’s birthplace) by Nyman’s 12-member ensemble. The 19 selections certainly exhibit the composer’s distinctive musical voice—marked by growling lower brass textures and driving ostinatos—and include his recent work “The Musicologist Scores,” which alludes to Handel’s music, just as earlier compositions reference Purcell and Mozart. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, and PCM stereo, this is recommended. (three stars) (F. Swietek)