Nyman: Trombone Concerto; Concerto for Saxophone and Cello; Harpsichord Concerto

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WORKS: Trombone Concerto; Concerto for Saxophone and Cello; Harpsichord Concerto
PERFORMER: Christian Lindberg (trombone), John Harle (saxophone), Julian Lloyd Webber (cello)Philharmonia Orchestra/Michael Nyman
These pieces are called ‘concertos’ and EMI designates them as ‘classical’, yet a nasty surprise awaits those who are comforted by such terminology. Anyone hoping to recognise those timeless procedures whereby classical composers (not to mention Baroque, Romantic, serial, impressionist et al) give coherence to long musical structures must look elsewhere.


Film composers must write in countless moods to a director’s specification, but embarking on a long concert piece presupposes the intention to replace a cinematic discipline with a musical one. Nyman doesn’t agree and each concerto consists largely of musical slabs, varying in size and figuration, which cut instantaneously from one to another. Listeners must make it hang together for themselves. Enjoy the primary colours of whichever slab you are on and the moment of disorientation as you jump to the next one. Avoid at all costs looking for the ‘musical argument’ or the ‘powerful dialectic’ offered by the EMI press release.


As vehicles for the prestigious soloists the pieces are disappointing. The double concerto seems preoccupied with showing that saxophone and cello can sound very similar, the harpsichord concerto keeps most of the musical interest in the string orchestra, and the trombone soloist is frequently swamped by the dense accompaniment. Christopher Mowat