STEVE REICH: Double Sextet; Radio Rewrite – Ensemble Signal/Brad Lubman – Harmonia mundi HMU907671, 39:45, (7/8/16) ***1/2:
Outstanding performances of these recent Reich works in the familiar style.
B01FLNZNPM Steve Reich has been, for several decades now, one of those composers who found his niche and maintains a great success within it. He was one of the pioneers of the “minimalism” movement (a term that most consider no longer wholly descriptive.) Reich’s music continues to be comprised of overlapping bits of melody and rhythm and structured phase shifting and the like and it gives his music a signature sound; propulsive, light-textured and buoyant.
The two works here are two fairly recent examples of Steve’s work which has, in its own realm, developed quite a bit over the years. The Double Sextet, from 2007, is interesting in that he wrote it to be played in its present iteration – with twelve live instrumentalists – or with six playing against a pre-recorded track of the other six parts. Certainly, the Double Sextet played with all live players is more intriguing to watch or to play in, I should imagine, than the version of six playing against a recording. Another interesting facet of this work is that the six instruments are paired so that this configuration closely resembles the main components of a classical era chamber orchestra (except for those two vibraphones.) I found it to be a very interesting work to listen to; quite fun.
Radio Rewrite was written in 2013 after Reich had met members of the alternative rock band, Radiohead. Reich discovered that the group is well-versed in contemporary music and are fans of his music and Reich acknowledged the same. This led, interestingly, to Radiohead’s lead guitarist, the very fine Jonny Greenwood, performing Steve’s piece, Electric Counterpoint; which inspired Reich to write the present work. Jonny Greenwood is, incidentally, a very creative composer in his own right, having done some film scores (such as that to “There Will Be Blood”), among other things. Radio Rewrite is a fairly compact piece and uses small bits of harmonic progression and melody from a couple of Radiohead tunes. It is not at all a tribute or variations work; much more so a very creative piece that owes some of its elements and jazz-rock ‘feel’ to Radiohead.
Another big reason to like this album is the very dedicated and stellar performance by Brad Lubman and the members of Ensemble Signal. They earned some well-deserved accolades for their 2015 HMU release of Reich’s iconic Music for Eighteen Musicians. This current album further illustrates their skill and awareness of Steve’s music.
Minimalism is minimalism and some listeners either like it, as do I, or not. [If anyone qualifies for the minimalist title today it certainly would have to be Reich and Glass…Ed.] There is no denying, though, Reich has earned a place in twentieth century musicology as one of the style’s founding voices. I also greatly admire Steve’s ability to simultaneously retain his signature sound while still finding new and creative pathways. If I had one gripe about this album it is that, at thirty-nine minutes, this full-priced disc could have contained perhaps one more piece; such as Greenwood’s performance of Electric Counterpoint. Just a thought.