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Michael Nyman: String Quartets Nos. 1-3

Nyman / Balanescu Quartet
Release Date: 11/13/2012 
Label:  Mn Records   Catalog #: 124   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Michael Nyman
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Balanescu Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



NYMAN Poczatek. The Photography of Chance. Yellow Beach. Time Will Pronounce Fidelio Tr MN 120 (63:14)


NYMAN String Quartets Nos. 1–3 Balanescu Str Qt MN 124 (63:13)


MN Records is aiming to record the complete chamber works of Michael Read more Nyman. Here are the first fruits, two volumes that help provide a portrait of this fascinating figure. The first is subtitled, “Piano Trios 1992–2010.” Originally written for the Michael Nyman Band and the film of the title’s name in 2000, this 2010 version of Poczatek is given here in a version prepared specially for the Fidelio Trio. The film was commissioned by the Polish Cultural Institute to accompany the composer’s own choice of excerpts from Polish film. The performance here positively sparkles. Rhythmically skipping unison lines are full of vitality. An objectivized element to the performance only serves to make the listening experience of this sequence of vignettes all the more refreshing. The piece is beautifully varied, and finds Nyman painting in principally primary colors.


The Photography of Chance (2004) was commissioned to celebrate the landscape of Utah and is dedicated to the British disc jockey John Peel. As in the case of Poczatek , this disc presents the premiere recording. There are some tremendously poignant long lines, contrasted with more active, gestural sections that seem to link to Messiaen. It is a tremendously interesting, involving score whose inner vitality is supremely rendered here by the Fidelio Trio. Nyman plays on the contrast of the two planes of expression effectively. It sustains its 20 minute duration with ease. The 2002 piece Yellow Beach is described by the composer as a “transfigured version of Come Unto Thee Yellow Sands performed by the Michael Nyman Band in Prospero’s Books. ” Engaging and yet at times massively expressive, Yellow Beach emerges as a masterpiece of concise writing (it lasts 6:23). Finally for this disc, the 20-minute Time Will Pronounce , its title taken from lines of a poem by Joseph Brodsky that concerns the deaths in Bosnia in 1992. Nyman divides the instrumental group into piano as one unit and strings acting together as another unit. It sounds like there is some sort of rhythmic powerhouse generator enlivening the performance, such is the intensity of the players. There is much beauty here also (try the section around nine minutes in), and instrumental effects are used tastefully. This piece also holds the most purely minimalist music, and it seems perfectly placed. The sense of timelessness of the work’s closing section is quite mesmerically done here.


Dedicated to the memory of musicologist Thurston Dart (or “Thruston Brat” as one of my university lecturers fondly referred to him), Nyman’s First Quartet takes as its basis a piece by the English composer John Bull (a set of variations on the tune Wallsingham ). Yet it is also influenced by the tendency of some quartet music to struggle against the boundaries of its instrumentation (specifically, the point of inspiration was a performance of Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge by the Arditti Quartet). Other quotations, including from Schoenberg’s Second Quartet, litter the score in an attempt to make the piece a summation of the string quartet medium this far, all within a minimalist aesthetic. So, huge ambitions for a work that lasts shy of 26 minutes. The movements all have titles, along the lines of “John Bull I,” “Arnold Schoenberg 2,” “Michael Nyman I,” and even “John Bull meets Arnold Schoenberg.” All this is fascinating, and what comes across is a delight in the musical cryptography from the composer, and a reciprocal excitement from the Balanescu Quartet.


The First Quartet is heard third; the Second is heard first. The Second is based on a dance piece, Miniatures . The performer of that dance piece, Shobana Jeyasingh, put down the rhythmic elements. It begins in an expansive, lyric mode. As with much of Nyman, he will present his musical ideas early on, if not immediately, in a movement, and then stick to his trajectory. The music is heartfelt, although the innocent ear might be hard pressed to find Indian influences.


The Third Quartet (1990) centers on beauty. The easeful accents that open it present the musical ideas for what is to come. The control of the performers in the slower second movement is beyond reproach, and they bring about the gradual crescendos with consummate ease. Based on music for a BBC documentary called Out of the Rains , it too owes something to Dart, as it was Dart who had sent Nyman to Romania on a music-finding expedition. Material from that trip is heard layered onto music form the documentary: the composite result is never less than fascinating, aurally.


These quartet recordings were recorded in 1991 and first released on the Argo label. Both discs under review here are impressive in the extreme and fully worthy of investigation.


FANFARE: Colin Clarke
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Works on This Recording

1.
Quartet for Strings no 3 by Michael Nyman
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Balanescu Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1990; England 
2.
Quartet for Strings no 2 by Michael Nyman
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Balanescu Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1988; England 
3.
Quartet for Strings no 1 by Michael Nyman
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Balanescu Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1985; England 

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