- Just a Phase? The music of Steve Reich [Recommended Recordings]
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Steve Reich
Recommended Recordings

"A performance for us is a situation where all the musicians, including myself, attempt to set aside our individual thoughts and feelings of the moment, and try to focus our minds and bodies clearly on the realization of one continuous musical process."

Different Trains, Electric Counterpoint
(Pat Metheny; Kronos Quartet)
Different Trains (1988) will probably go down in history as Reich's masterpiece. And deservedly so. Reich's phase-shifting minimalism is made dazzlingly entertaining in Different Trains, which is scored for string quartet and digitally sampled voices that repeat bits of speech concerning trains and Reich's experience with them growing up. The sinister part here is than some trains carried Jews to death camps. That's here as well. The Kronos Quartet has also never sounded better. Electric Counterpoint (1987) has one guitar--Pat Metheny in this case-- playing to 10 pre-recorded motifs, also on guitar. You absolutely need this. (review by Paul Cook)

Music for 18 Musicians
(Rebecca Armstrong, Marion Beckenstein, et al; Steve Reich Ensemble)
The pulsations of Steve Reich's landmark Music for 18 Musicians signify a New Music precipice. Where so much music after World War II explored extremes of tone, time, and register, Reich--and some of his colleagues in the 1960s and after--gravitated towards immersion in repetitions and telescoped focus on tonal areas. The combination of piano, vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, clarinets, violin, cello, and female voices is intoxicating in Reich's hands. Reich creates a middle-register, ringing vamp with burnished reed palpitations and, eventually, quick, rolling piano figures emerge in tandem with the percussion. This recording is the second-best known, next to the ECM Records version of the piece, and is warm and colorfully tingling. (review by Andrew Bartlett)

Phase Patterns, Pendulum Music, etc
(Josef Christof, Michael Obst, et al)
With all the attention accorded Steve Reich in the wake of his 60th birthday--and the mammoth 10-CD box set--it's great to have an ensemble dip unabashedly into the composer's distant past. The four works on this set all hail from the 1968 to 1970 period and all embody a creative risk-taking that Reich has moved away from in favor of a more musically articulate, broader-spanning aesthetic. Nevertheless, Piano Phase ranks as one of Reich's great achievements, and in the hands of pianists Steffen Schleiermacher and Josef Christof, the vaunted phases of synched-up playing last longer and sound more tempered than Nurit Tilles and Edmund Niemann's recorded debut of the piece. Four Organs and Phase Patterns have an edge that comes directly from the piercing tones of the electric keyboards used, finding fruitful ground between Reich's phase work and a more repetitive singularity of phrases that forces undivided attention on the compositional increments. Pendulum Music is the true oddity here, separated into three iterations that each lasts around five minutes. The piece is written for dangling microphones that sway like pendulums over a speaker, eliciting feedback that sounds positively like a bass or contrabass clarinet. Of course this work falls somewhere between composition and performance art, but it works brilliantly--leaving the listener convinced that the sonorities are acoustic (not to mention human) in origin. (review by Andrew Bartlett)

Steve Reich 1965-1995
(Edmund Niemann, Nurit Tilles, et al; Bang on a Can, Steve Reich and Musicians, et al; conducted by Brad Lubman, Reinbert De Leeuw, et al)
In the afterglow of his 60th birthday in 1997, Nonesuch Records delivered Steve Reich and his listeners an immense gift, this 10-CD retrospective of his work for the label, extending from his earliest tape-manipulation pieces to his most recent compositions utilizing samplers and the video artistry of Beryl Korot. Aside from the ear's liquid sense-making when it hears the dense and limber marimbas of Reich's Six Marimbas or his taut, dizzying Piano Phase, there is a physical response almost inevitable in Reich's music. It stuns and holds you. And he knows it. It's Gonna Rain struck an early chord of inventiveness, featuring an African American Pentecostal preacher's sermon and eventually spinning the title phrase into a jangling repetition of single words. Percussion works abound here: Clapping and Drumming stun with their deceptive similarity and warm clarity. Perennial favorite Piano Phase features pianists Nurit Tilles and Eduard Neumann synched up on two pianos and careening at full tilt in unison before their four hands fall out of time and phrase with each other, only to realign in a powerful swooping demonstration of energy and focus. The latter CDs hold abundant delights, many revealing Reich's late-discovered spiritualism and Judaica: Different Trains' examination of the Holocaust; Tehillim's shimmering Hebrew texts sung with fascinating choral power; Proverb's invocation of Perotin. Closing the set are recent pieces: Nagoya Marimbas, and the sampler-rich City Life and The Cave. (reviewed by Andrew Bartlett)

(Rebecca Armstrong, Ellen Bardekoff, et al; Steve Reich and Musicians; George Manahan, conductor)
It was with this critical work, Tehillim (the Hebrew word for psalms), that Steve Reich demonstrated that minimalism had the power to break out of its groupie ghetto and appeal to a broad audience of music lovers. In creating a masterpiece both expressive and approachable, Reich used the oldest trick in the book: he turned to a biblical source--exactly the sort of thing that composers have been doing since the dawn of recorded music. The result is remarkable in every way, and the music's popularity in performance speaks for itself. This recording, effectively with the work's "original cast," is unlikely to be bettered. It belongs in the collection of anyone who cares about the most important music of our time. (review by David Hurwitz)


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