MICHAEL NYMAN: Symphony No. 11, “Hillsborough Memorial” – Kathryn Rudge, mezzo/ Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Choir/ Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orch./ Josep Vicent – MN Records MNRCD 136, 40:09 (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) [11/11/14] **1/2:
From the editorial reviews we learn that “During a 1989 match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest football clubs at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, 96 people were crushed to death and 766 were injured when police allowed too many people to enter the stadium. Now referred to as the Hillsborough Disaster, it remains the worst stadium-related disaster in British history. Michael Nyman’s Symphony No. 11 was written as a memorial to the victims.” It was commissioned by the Liverpool Biennial 2014, with the World Premiere Performance taking place on July 5th 2014 at Liverpool Cathedral.
The music itself is culled from many sources, including the music for the movie The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover from 1989, and other sources, including a memorial for the 1985 victims of the Heysel Stadium disaster in Brussels, which he could never get launched into anything more permanent. So the piece is a compendium, which is no big deal as the tradition for doing such is long and honorable.
I have no doubt that the hearers of this piece in concert in Liverpool Cathedral, many probably still in mourning, were profoundly moved, and explored the minimalistic recesses of Nyman’s incredibly repetitive score to the fullest as a way of strangulating their grief. But to my hearing this piece is much more a work of a particular context as opposed to hearing it coming into a listening room at home. And his railing against the Thatcher government and the police at the time who are currently getting the blame for the incident (an ongoing investigation) with his comments at the end of the CD booklet smack a little too much of political art than of pure memorial to the 96 who perished. Nevertheless, he cared enough to compile this work in their honor, even though in the end the music doesn’t really hold up divorced from its premiere setting, and in fact is a bit tiresome. The recording itself is very close up, restricted in dynamic range with a tiny amount of distortion in the louder passages. I like Nyman’s music generally, but this one doesn’t pack the musical or emotional interest I was expecting.