Purcell and Michael Nyman

Purcell & Michael Nyman
Iestyn Davies & Fretwork
Milton Court, 28 May 2018

Michael Nyman: No Time in Eternity
Purcell: Two Fantazies in four parts; Music for a While
Michael Nyman: Music after a While (world premiere)
Purcell: An Evening Hymn
Michael Nyman: Balancing the Books; The Diary of Anne Frank: If; Why
Purcell; Fantazy in four parts; Fantazy upon one note
Michael Nyman: Self-laudatory hymn of Inanna and her omnipotence

Many early music period instrument groups play and commission contemporary works, but the viol consort Fretwork is one of the most active in this field, with over 40 commissions over their 32-year life. Their latest commission is from Michael Nyman with Music after a While, an instrumental response to Purcell’s Music for a While, and given it’s world premiere during this concert. Early music, and particularly the compositions of Purcell, have been life-long influences on Nyman, as reflected for example, in his Purcell-inspired score for the film The Draughtsman’s Contract. A student of Thurston Dart, Nyman’s early career including editing Purcell and Handel, and his performing band combined period and modern instruments. He has worked many times before with Fretwork.
This concert, in the excellent acoustics of Milton Court, opened with a recent Nyman piece, his 2016 No Time in Eternity, a sequence of seven linked Robert Herrick poems, the underlying theme of time made clear in Nyman’s interweaving rhythms and textures, with slight phase shifts in between the separate poems. After two Purcell viol Fantazias, reflecting his own look back to music of an earlier time, came Music for a while, followed by the world premiere of Nyman’s 12-minute instrumental response, Music after a while. Echoes of Purcell’s piece filtered through Nyman’s increasingly complex texture, the series of sections each developing little rhythmic and melodic fragments.

Three earlier Nyman pieces, the 1999 instrumental Balancing the Books and two pieces from the 1995 film The Diary of Anne Frank (to rather trite words) were balanced by two more of Purcell’s 1680 Fantazies, including the well-known Fantazy upon one note. The evening concluded with Nyman’s evocative 1992 ‘Self-laudatory hymn of Inanna and her omnipotence’. Inanna was the ancient Sumerian goddess of  “love, beauty, sex, desire, fertility, war, combat, justice, and political power”, later transformed into the Assyrian and Semetic Ishtar. It was written for Fretwork and countertenor James Bowman, and was a test for both Iestyn Davies and Fretwork, the former having to negotiate some alarming leaps and descents into his tenor register, all brilliantly negotiated, as was Fretwork’s playing. The encore was Purcell’s O Solitude, movingly portrayed by Davies.

This was a near-perfect concert, contrasting two composers whose links are stronger than many people might think and performed by musicians at the top of their profession. Iestyn Davies’s countertenor voice has a purity and musicality that he combined with obvious intelligence and interpretational insight.

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