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Bob Briggs
Michael Nyman - Films to Write Music To: Motion Trio, Michael Nyman Band, Michael Nyman (piano), Barbican Hall, London, 8 April 2009 (BBr)
Michael Nyman: In Re Don Giovanni (1977), Knowing the Ropes, Trysting Fields and Sheep and Tides (Drowning by Numbers) (1988), Come Unto These Yellow Sands (Prospero’s Books) (1991), Wedding Tango (Drowning by Numbers), An Eye for the Optical Theory (The Draughtsman’s Contract) (1982), Prospero’s Curse (Prospero’s Books), If (The Diary of Anne Frank) (1995), Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds (The Draughtsman’s Contract), MGV – Musique à Grande Vitesse (1993 – 2009) [world premiere of this version], Poczqtek (2009) Motion Trio: Janusz Wojtarowicz, Pawel Baranek, Narcin Gałazyn (accordions) Michael Nyman Band : Morven Bryce (violin), Cathy Thompson (violin), Kate Musker (viola), Anthony Hinnigan (cello), Martin Elliott (bass guitar), David Roach (soprano and alto saxophones), Simon Haram (soprano and alto saxophones), Andy Findon (baritone saxophone, flute and piccolo), Steve Sidwell (trumpet), Dave Lee (horn), Nigel Barr (trombone and euphonium), Nigel Charman (drums), Michael Nyman (piano) There’s a saying that a true gentleman is one who can play the accordion, but doesn’t. We must, therefore, assume that the members of the Motion Trio are not gentlemen and for that we should be very grateful. In his few words on introduction to part two, Nyman, jokingly, said that the Trio had added that special sound which had been lacking from the Michael Nyman Band for the last twenty five years and whilst this isn’t true, what is true is that the brilliant sound of the accordions certainly added a new, and refreshingly interesting, timbre to the sound. As usual with Nyman concerts the first half was a brief resume of greatest hits, tonight starting with a knockout version of In Re Don Giovanni for the Trio alone, except for a too brief, but very welcome, appearance of Nigel Barr and his melodious euphonium towards the end. As it turned out, the first half was dominated by the trio as they gave performances both alone and with the band. One of the most exciting things about these new arrangements was that there were harmonic and rhythmic points brought to the fore which I’d either missed or not noticed before. Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds made a splendid end to the first half for it contained an absolutely delicious section for the trio which threw the rest of the piece into sharp relief, bringing it to life in a new and unexpected way.The second half was more problematic for it contained two very large pieces and although MGV is well enough known it is still a difficult and complex piece to get to grips with for it is multi–layered, richly, and thickly, textured and quite kaleidoscopic in its layout. In his own note Nyman says that it is too easy to see the piece as a kind of Concerto Grosso with the band as the ripieno, but after many hearings I am convinced that this is exactly what it is! Tonight, the Trio took the part of the orchestra, the band was itself; it was real Concerto Grosso stuff, and it was fabulous, this performance emphasizing the baroque foundations of the music. Due to a problem with, I think, the click track, to fill the time we had to wait whilst the sound engineer did his thing, Nyman gave us an impromptu performance of music from The Piano which, for me, was the highlight of the evening, for its restrained beauty. With Poczqtek we were treated to a special montage of excerpts from some 35 Polish films to a newly conceived score, the narrative being carried entirely by the music as the film was too diffuse. It was a fascinating collection of miniatures and made an exciting end to a concert which was only slightly overlong in that there was too much for us to take in in one sitting; this is not a criticism, merely an observation, however, I think that the many in the very full house might disagree with me. No matter my slight worry, this was a fine show of Nyman’s fabulous, funky, and always interesting music.