contemporary composers
Michael NYMAN (b.1944)

The Piano Concerto
(Musique à Grande Vitesse)

Kathryn Stott piano
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
The Michael Nyman Band & Orchestra

conducted by Michael Nyman

ARGO (Decca) 443 382-2
[59:03] full-price

by René Chia

Michael Nyman is one of Britain's most well-known composers, in particular for his film scores such as The Piano, Prospero's Books and most recently Gattaca. His music is often called minimalist, though it is probably more melodic and appealing than the label suggests.

The Piano Concerto is based on material from The Piano. Like MGV, it is a one-movement work split into several named sections. After a 7-minute prelude, the well-known theme from The Piano appears, singing its melancholic strains. This A-minor idea is derived from the Scottish song "Bonny winter's noo awa". The inclusion of the orchestra, specifically trumpet, saxophone and the ever-present strings, makes the Concerto more substantial and symphonic. Sometimes the pounding of the themes, either on piano or in orchestra, seems to depict Jodie Foster banging away at the keyboard, or even the crashing of the surf on the shores.

Michael Nyman The music of "The Woods" is of a drifting, dreamy quality. The fast-paced third section is "The Hut", with its syncopated piano theme, pounding and very exciting - as performed here by Stott. Sometimes the music becomes moody and sentimental, so much so that it is almost maudlin. This leads to "The Release", the finale which reprises earlier material. "Bonny winter's noo awa" asserts its sorrowful strains, gaining in intensity towards the end.

I'm a big fan of MGV. The name is short for "Musique à Grande Vitesse" ("High Speed Music"). It was commissioned by the Lille Festival, France, and first performed on 26th September 1993 for the inauguration of the TGV North-European railway line. It is divided into five "regions", but is a continuous 26½-minute work with no break.

As the music begins, we don't hear the train starting at the station. Instead, it is already chugging away, gaining momentum and speed. When the music is soft, I envision the train being engulfed by tunnels, and where it is loud, the engine emerges from underground.

This is scenic music of the "travelling" variety, full of textures and landscapes. Even as the train speeds through one region, the moods change, as if depicting the changing scenery rushing by. The 2nd Region is urban in mood, mechanically chugging, almost hectic. In the central Third Region the music repeatedly changes mood. Within the fast sections, it suddenly slows down into a beautiful melody, perhaps portraying open landscape.

With these interludes of green fields and pasture, the effect is like being on an MRT* ride, with its sequence of tunnel-housing estate-tunnel-housing estate-tunnel-neighbourhood park-tunnel-water purification plant-tunnel... But overall, the sensation is of wonder and exploration - seeing new things on new journeys, with different people seeing different things through different eyes.

*The MRT is Singapore's subway/tube.

My favourite is the Fifth Region. There is a sudden change in tempo at the ending of the Fourth Region which makes one expectant. The Fifth Region begins abruptly with sidedrums. As the opening theme returns, one feels that the end of a maiden journey is approaching. A chorale-like melody arises in the orchestra accompanied by sidedrum triplets, signifying a triumphant ride home.

In order to fully appreciate MGV, the listener should not look at the timings of the tracks provided in the CD cover. By doing so. one artificially splits up the journey, making it predictable. It's more meaningful if you allow yourself to be immersed in the flowing "train" of moods. Once you withdraw yourself into the journey and the music, you forget about the passing of time and lack of comfort during the journey. Perhaps this is an effect of the hypnotic minimalist technique. Since there are "fewer notes" to practise, technically speaking, one automatically focuses on the interpretation and feeling of the repeating phrases. There is no distinct melody to latch on to, but the immersion is total.

If you are in Singapore, this disc is available at or can be ordered from Tower Records (Pacific Plaza & Suntec City), Borders (Wheelock Place) or HMV (The Heeren). You can also order it easily from Sing Discs (Raffles City).

René Chia has a giraffe for a friend. His name is Munch-munch Chew-chew, because that's what giraffes do best, don't they? MmCc is both red and yellow in colour and moonlights as a customs officer in Darkest Africa.

Back to the Classical Index!... or read more 20th Century music reviews from the Inkvault!

167: 17.5.98. up.10.6.1999 René Chia

Readers' Comments

From: renee ( / Saturday, July 10, 1999 at 11:03:41)

I am a big fan of Michael Nyman. I recall a film by the name of "Monsieur Hire" which Michael Nyman wrote the musical score. I wonder if you know whether a recording of the music from this film was ever released. If not, has Michael Nyman ever recorded this and can it be obtained. Thanks once again. Renee


Explore the Flying Inkpot

They're Alive!
Concert Reviews

Bit deadish:

Other Resources at The Flying Inkpot

Thomas Adès: Life Story

Malcolm Arnold: Orchestral Works

Michael Daugherty: American Icons

Johan de Meij: Lord of the Rings

Nyman: Piano Concerto. MGV

Nyman: Where the Bee Dances

Krystopf Penderecki: Violin Concerti

John Rutter: Te Deum and other works

John Rutter: Fancies and other works

Aulis Sallinen: Works for Strings

Stolarczyk: Symphony for 96 Pianos

Tan Dun: Symphony 1997

John Tavener: The Protecting Veil

Peteris Vasks: Voices Symphony. Cello Concerto

John Williams: Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace Soundtrack
Including vocal text for Duel of the Fates.

From the Inkpot Requiem Cycle:
Jonathan Elias: The Prayer Cycle
Górecki: Symphony of Sorrowful Songs

[an error occurred while processing this directive]