Michael Nyman, Nyman / Greenaway Revisited

John Schaefer

By John Schaefer

on 09.05.12 in Reviews

English composer Michael Nyman can’t complain when people call him a Minimalist; after all, in his early days as a music critic, he helped coin the term. And since those days in the late ’70s, he has been perhaps England’s leading purveyor of that alleged style. While his later works – especially since the success of his score to the film The Piano – have been more Romantic, lush and orchestral, the “classic” sound of the Michael Nyman Band is one of primary colors splashed upon the canvas – the sound of single strings, lots of horns, keyboards and electric bass. That sound, which could be brash and exciting but also surprisingly poignant, was used to great effect in the films of Peter Greenaway throughout the 1980s and early ’90s, and this collection presents what Nyman calls “the composer’s cut” – i.e., concert versions of the film scores.

Concert versions of Nyman’s Peter Greenaway film scores

The performances are faithful to the originals, although the epic and emotional “Memorial,” featuring stratospheric soprano Sarah Leonard, is played somewhat more gently than the version that appears in Greenaway’s The Cook The Thief His Wife And Her Lover. (That piece began as a genuine memorial from this soccer-loving composer, written after the so-called Heysel Disaster in 1985, in which 39 fans died.) Highlights include…well, it’s an album of highlights. But Nyman picks the hits from The Draughtsman’s Contract, inspired by the music of Henry Purcell; and Drowning By Numbers, based on a fragment of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in Eb for violin and viola, is ably represented by three tracks that will probably make you want to hear the whole soundtrack.