Michael Nyman

Prospero's Books

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The soundtrack for Peter Greenaway's film Prospero's Books is one of Michael Nyman's most ambitious accomplishments. Where his previous film scores had been obsessively minimalist and cleverly derivative of past musical styles, Nyman's stylistic approach is more varied and rather free, since many of these pieces are settings of Shakespeare's song texts and require a flexible approach. Though Nyman's neo-Baroque minimalism is still present in such instrumental pieces as the extended processional music of Prospero's Magic and the sedate Cornfield, his vocal pieces are entirely of a different character. "Full Fathom Five" is given a lush, harmonic setting, introducing an impressionist style that will be more pronounced in later scores. "Where the Bee Sucks" is similar, as the melody is wreathed in shimmering harmonies and undulating figurations. In these songs, Sarah Leonard's pure tone approximates the sound of a boy soprano's voice, and was extremely effective in the film when synchronized with the child actor who played Ariel. The Masque is the major work on this recording, a nearly operatic rendering of the wedding scene for three sopranos in three different vocal styles. Marie Angel, Ute Lemper, and Deborah Conway sing the roles of Iris, Ceres, and Juno, respectively, and the distinctiveness of their voices is not so great as to prevent them from blending well in their concluding trio.

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