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

Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

    £300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

    High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

    £70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

    Teaching Assistant

    £50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

    Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

    £400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments