Kathryn Stott / Michael Nyman

Michael Nyman: MGV (Musique à Grande Vitesse); The Piano Concerto

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MN Records is the label run by English composer Michael Nyman to promote and propagate his own works, and MN's MGV -- The Piano Concerto is a more or less straight reissue of one of the finest discs released on the Decca-owned, 1990s era edition of the U.K. Argo imprint. From 1957 to 1988 Argo was an independent operation with a tenuous connection to Decca. Its acquisition temporarily silenced the label, but Argo was relaunched in 1990 as a vehicle for sacred and contemporary music; it was finally shut down in 1998. MGV -- The Piano Concerto was among the better sellers this last incarnation of English Argo ever had, and the release should never have been allowed to lapse, but that's just how things go sometimes in the classical recording business. The upshot is that the renewed availability of MGV -- The Piano Concerto is something to be happy about.

MGV (Musique à Grand Vitesse) was written to commission for the opening of the TVG high-speed train line at Lille, which runs to Paris, but it doesn't play out like a typical "commission." MGV is grand, relentlessly rhythmic, and exciting music that rushes onward for a full half hour with only a couple of relatively quiet passages to allow for the listener to stretch his/her legs; "High Speed Music," as per its subtitle, indeed. Nyman employs an interesting format in this piece, which is a sort of a concerto grosso with the small Michael Nyman Band serving as a ripieno and triggering off the material used in the orchestra, technically the "soloist." MGV is terrific driving music and easily appealing; the slight difference in intonation between the Nyman Band and the full orchestra leads to some interesting "bends" in the harmonic texture as MGV rounds a curve here and there.

Michael Nyman's score for the Jane Campion film The Piano (1993) was so enormously popular that Nyman would have been undercapitalizing himself by not composing The Piano Concerto, essentially an extended concert paraphrase on his most famous film score. The genre of the piano concerto based on a film score is a necessarily English invention anyway, dating back to Dangerous Moonlight (1941) and Richard Addinsell's Warsaw Concerto. Kathryn Stott performs the solo part in this work, written for the most part in an easy, folk-like idiom in keeping with the source score Nyman contributed to the film, though the movement entitled "The Hut" is written in a glittering, virtuoso manner not possible for use in the film, as he was limited to composing just music that actress Holly Hunter could reasonably play on the set. This concerto might not appeal to hardcore Nyman fans that associate him most strongly with avant-garde minimalism, but it makes for a wisely planned and appealing Nyman disc to offer to the general public as a whole, and those same hardcore fans will find much to admire in MGV.

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