CD cover - Nyman BrassNyman Brass

18-Oct-2006

Wingates Band
Conductor: Andrew Berryman
MN Records: MNRCD110
Total Playing Time: Approx 60 mins

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The compositional voice of Michael Nyman is as individual and distinctive in the music world as his appearance. His highly personal, yet effective use of harmony, rhythm and timbre make him a highly sought after composer as his ability to combine graceful intent and execution to complex rhythmical structures allows him to successfully explore a wide variety of genres from string quartets to concertos, orchestral to theatrical, film and now brass. Add to that his 0-0 glasses, bald pate and serious demeanor and you have a man who knows how to make a mark for himself.

In a way he has something of a tenuous relationship (about three parts removed in fact) with the banding world, as many years ago he wrote the libretto to Harrison Birtwistle's ‘Down by the Greenwood Side'. Birtwistle went on to write a bit for brass bands, whilst Nyman found more spectacular success especially with his musical relationship with the film producer Peter Greenaway, with whom he has now written well over 20 productions.

In recent years his music to films such as ‘The Piano', ‘Prospero's Books' and the trio of Greenaway films, ‘The Draughtsman's Contract', ‘Drowning by Numbers' and ‘A Zed & Two Noughts', have brought him world wide acclaim, so it something of a real coup that he has decided to work with the brass band genre and the Wingates Band.

To be perfectly accurate the music played are in fact arrangements of a selection of his works by John Parkinson – and excellent arrangements of the originals they are too. The composer took an active interest in this project and described it as a ‘privilege' whilst he was deeply impressed by the ‘new sound world' (as he described it) that the brass band offered his music.

The compositions chosen for transcription come from the score of the film ‘The Ogre' which was never released in the UK and ‘The Libertine', which was and received critical, rather than immense popular success. The CD is completed with two ‘classic' Nyman works, ‘In Re Don Giovani' and ‘Chasing Sheep is best left to Shepherds' both of which have been used extensively by just about anyone, from advertisers to film makers on posh houses.

The latter work offers the best opportunity to fully appreciate the differences, and difficulties of transcribing Nyman's work for brass. The composer himself works extensively with small ensembles such as his own Michael Nyman Band and he makes great use of the saxophone as a leading voice. (The jazz saxophonist John Harles is a performer he has worked closely with over the years). Many of his works are immensely rhythmically complex (if you ever want to listen to a great example search out his composition ‘The Convertibility of Lute Strings') and lusciously coloured (check his MGV {Musique a Grande Vitesse}: 5th Region).

With the much more restrained and less colourful brass band palette to work from, much of that is lost, with the trademark repeated quaver passages lacking delicacy and the broad sweep of much of his string work losing its elasticity. ‘Chasing Sheep' is left feeling as if you are running after them in a pair of Wellington boots through a muddy field, whilst the ‘Giovanni' is a bit of a blobby mess of poor balance and over accentuated attack. 

That said, and even if these two works do not come off, the selections from the two film scores certainly do. ‘The Ogre' is a wonderful development of quite simple thematic material, subtly drawn with both wit and charm. All the Nyman trademarks musical signatures are to be heard, but the skillful arrangement does not try to over stylize them. From the opening bold ‘Knights at School' through the more lyrical ‘Child Bearer' to the pomposity of ‘Goering's hunting party' and beyond it is revealed as a clever and intelligent piece of atmospheric and descriptive writing. The original must be fantastic, for the brass version is quite excellent and would make a great concert piece, even if it's nearly 25 minutes in length.

The same is also appropriate for the music from ‘The Libertine', which although suffers at times from being a touch monochrome in timbre and colour is set out with intelligent use of the brass band resources available to the arranger. Again, the original thematic material is explored with nuance and subtle changes of rhythmic and textural direction.

Wingates are on fluctuating form throughout what must have been a very taxing, yet rewarding musical experience. At times the tuning grates, especially in the top lines whilst the bass end does get harsh in places, but overall it is an admirable effort in a style of music that few if any would have encountered before. The recording ambience is perhaps deliberately ‘cold' and lacks a touch of reverb that would have possibly made the music sound slightly less harsh at times, but that may be what the composer and arranger wanted to create.

The lack of information about the music is a real disappointment though, although the odd slip up with the photos and the odd nasty spelling mistake are more easily forgiven.

This is one of the most interesting and enjoyably distinctive releases of the year and a real coup for Wingates Band, and the brass band movement. Let's hope we hear more of this combination in the future, and perhaps see if we can persuade Mr Nyman to write something substantial for us too.

Iwan Fox.     

What's on this CD?

1. From 'The Ogre', Michael Nyman arr. John Parkinson
2. Knights at School, 7.35
3. Child Bearer, 3.33
4. Magic Forest, 1.03
5. Göering's Hunting Party, 2.20
6. Abel's Revolt, 3.59
7. Meeting the Moose, 4.37
8. Into the Woods, 1.17
9. Abel carries Ephraim, 5.30
10. From 'The Libertine', Michael Nyman arr. John Parkinson �����
11. Upon Nothing, 1.27
12. My Lord All-Pride, 1.34
13. A Satire Against Reason, 3.36
14. The Mistress, 5.53
15. Against Constancy, 2.47
16. Signior D, 2.07
17. A Satire Against Mankind, 2.50
18. In Re Don Giovanni Michael Nyman arr. Andrew Berryman, 2.21
19. From The Draughtsman's Contract Michael Nyman arr. John Parkinson
20. Chasing Sheep is best left to Shepherds, 5.16

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