Nyman: Symphony No.11 (Hillborough Memorial)

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Nyman
LABELS: MN Records
WORKS: Symphony No.11 (Hillsborough Memorial)
PERFORMER: Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Choir; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Joseph Vicent
CATALOGUE NO: MNRCD136

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The story of how a symphony comes to be shouldn’t have any bearing on the way it sounds, and yet it does, in this instance, explain why Nyman’s work sounds so familiar. Conceived for the Hillsborough Memorial in Liverpool Cathedral on 5 July this year, the piece reuses material from Nyman’s earlier Memorial (itself based on a Purcell theme) that he wrote in 1985 in memory of the Juventus fans who died at Heysel Stadium, and from the updated Hillsborough Memorial version, written in 1996, eleven years after the  Liverpool tragedy. Mixed in with this is ‘new material to fill the physical and emotional space’ required by the occasion.

Clearly Nyman is as passionate about football as he is about his Memorial, which he was working on (and reworking) when each footballing disaster took place. The forceful mezzo-soprano of Kathryn Rudge reading out the names of those who died makes for a climactic first movement, after which the filmic-sounding nostalgic themes of the second, ‘Family Reflections’, and the dirgeful boogie-woogie of the third movement, ‘The 96’, do sound like they are ‘filling’ space. The orchestral sound is rich and full, yet the final movement will inevitably prove problematic for anyone who remembers Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief for which this music was used: however genuine Nyman’s sentiments are here – and they do seem heartfelt – it’s hard to dispel images of the lover’s corpse being served up for dinner. For a composer who is all too aware of the way in which sound sticks to image, and
vice versa, it seems an odd choice.

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Nick Shave