Slowly chewing it over

The Michael Nyman Band

Royal Festival Hall, London

The two new works in Wednesday's programme by the Michael Nyman Band consist of short movements, themselves - for the most part - severely sectioned into brief, sometimes alternating, fragments which accumulate material more than they speculate upon it.

Overwhemingly, of course, they repeat it, so an awful lot depends a) on the durability of the basic material itself, and b) on the degree of imagination with which it is varied harmonically, instrumentally and so on. Though all this can be credited to the limitations of writing for films, other music on the programme suggested that Nyman's infamous shortwindedness is indeed endemic, rather than imposed.

Kenji Eno's "Enemy Zero" is a Japanese interactive video game on CD-ROM, its main character a Sharon Stone-lookalike called Laura. Plundering his own 1981 piece "Birdwork", the composer has produced a six-movement suite fleshing out the lean, mean Nyman of old with bloated and cynical layers of Romantic cannie: a piano solo of pastiched awfulness here, a smoochy indulgence of chromatic sidesteps there.

Things weren't helped by the playing of the composer's band, which lacked the raw energy and rhythmic bite previously typical of it: the amplication was sometimes tinny, the tone of the string section oddly thin; the first movement of "Enemy Zero" speeded up as it went along. The performance of "3 Quartets" - which now strikes me as one of the composer's better recent efforts, enhanced by the quirkiness of a frequent five beats to the bar - was rhythmically insecure, its ensemble strangely uncertain in a piece the band must have now played many times. The first violinist - scarcely a match for the characterful leadership provided by his predecessor, Alex Balanescu - lethargically chewed his way through the concert. I didn't know you could chew and play the fiddle at the same time. Mastication without modulation.

At least the Smith Quartet's performances of selected movements from the Fourth String Quartet, which opened each half of the programme, had more vigour and subtlely but even this group isn't as punchy in its present line-up. Though the Quartet's collection of twelve short movements, emphasising the composer's various interests in folk music, continues the shortwinded tendency without the film-music excuse, it does at least find more room for modulations, or at least for a more effective range of the chromatic shifts and alterations with which Nyman is now apparently attempting to transcend the limitations of his style.

If the music from the recently-released film Gattaca (about a society of genetically engineered people, directed by the New-Zealander Andrew Niccol) is anything to go by, such manoeuvres can do little to bring new life to a composer who now seems as much on autopilot as was his band on Wednesday night. Here, in the form of another six-movement suite, it fails the two-point acid test detailed above by subjecting some of the most thematically vapid, harmonically insensitive - and largely mind-numbingly slow - material I've ever heard Nyman produce to the thick treacle of a treatment by an engorged version of his band.

Keith Potter

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
News
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

    £23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

    Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

    £14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

    Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower