Nyman: The Piano Concerto; Where the Bee Dances

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Nyman
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: The Piano Concerto; Where the Bee Dances
PERFORMER: John Lenehan (piano), Simon Haram (saxophone)Ulster Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554168
In both concertos on this appealing new disc, Michael Nyman draws on music from his film scores, but while the saxophone concerto Where the Bee Dances engagingly develops material from the short song ‘Where the Bee Sucks’ from Prospero’s Books, The Piano Concerto welds together chunks of his score for Jane Campion’s The Piano, not always with great success. The Piano Concerto relies heavily on sudden contrasts – which are sometimes effective but often fall flat – and its rather arbitrary structure of strung-together sections isn’t particularly satisfying over its 30-minute single-movement span. While John Lenehan lacks the grace and poise of Kathryn Stott on the original Argo recording, he shows greater insight, with a rhythmic bite and an urgency which transform the work into something altogether more demanding – and unsettling.

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I have a soft spot for the saxophone concerto Where the Bee Dances, with its sunny charm, constant sense of forward movement and effortless growth quite rare in Nyman’s large-scale works. Simon Haram gives a more straightforward performance than John Harle’s rather mannered reading on Argo: he clearly enjoys the work’s rhythmic intricacy and the freshness of his tone is particularly suited to the rather naive positivity of the concerto.

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But sadly, the Naxos sound really can’t compete with that of Argo: in Where the Bee Dances, particularly, the enthusiastic and able Ulster Orchestra is so far back in the mix that much detail is lost. David Kettle