STEVE REICH: Double Sextet; 2 x 5 – Eighth Blackbird/Bang on a Can – Nonesuch

by | Sep 21, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

STEVE REICH: Double Sextet; 2 x 5 – Eighth Blackbird/Bang on a Can – Nonesuch 524853-2, 42.8 min. ****:

These are the latest on disc from the most minimalist of all the minimalists. Reich’s Double Sextet won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Music and is performed here by the six-member Eighth Blackbird new music ensemble on flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and vibes. The five Bang on a Can members heard on the 2 x 5 piece play two electric guitars, an electric bass, piano and drums.

The Sextet was composed specifically for the Eighth Blackbird group. Reich at first demurred from the project, saying he usually worked with multiples of identical instruments, or at least pairs – rather than one-of-a-kind individual instruments. But then he thought back to his early work playing around with phase with tape recorders, and later works where he had a string quartet, for example, play against multiple recordings of themselves. So he agreed and the Double Sextet takes on a much richer instrumental feeling with the overdubbing of the various instruments. There is often a quite jazzy syncopation set up with the subtly-changing rhythms in Reich’s music, and I was hoping the Double Sextet would surpass my favorite Reich work, his Music for 18 Musicians, in that department. I’m afraid it doesn’t.

Reich’s 2 x 5 also features the five performers playing against recordings of themselves, although he designed the work to be playable also by ten live musicians. As can be seen by the above list of instruments, this is written for rock instruments and is designed to have a strong rock feeling – not just from the electronic guitars. The musicians are mostly involved in both classical and rock/pop. The piece is strongly rhythmic and should appeal to listeners more heavily into rock.

The provided note booklet has a fascinating exchange with Reich about the crumbling of the wall between classical music and pop, and how Kurt Weill pointed the way back in the 1920s. Both works are interesting listening at least once even if you’re sensitive to extremely repetitive music, but again I personally would have found myself more involved in them if the recording had been hi-res multichannel.

 — John Sunier

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