STEVE REICH: Music for 18 Musicians – Ensemble Signal/ Brad Lubman – Harmonia mundi HMU 907608, 59:17 (5/12/15) ****:
This work of 1974-76, along with Terry Riley’s In C, changed the whole course of 20th century music and has been much performed and recorded by various groups. It and Riley’s piece proved that minimalism can really work in the hands of composing geniuses such as these two. It’s probably my favorite Steve Reich work primarly due to the jazzy swing which the overlapping rhythms produce.
This is the debut recording by the Ensemble Signal, and they differ from most of the others out there in that the four voices called for in Reich’s score are more pronounced here than in the others. That seems to add a charge to the instrumentation that is missing on some of the other recordings. The ensemble was also joined by four members of Third Coast Percussion in this performance, and the playing is very skillful and accurate. Reich found this version to be “spot on.”
I’m afraid I’m still partial to the amazing version done by the students at Grand Valley State University, which I reviewed on a SACD released by Innova. It may be just my general enthusiasm for music in surround, but I feel this work fairly cries out for the spatial qualities of having the players surround the listener, as the Innova SACD does. Even though the four voices are more subdued on this recording, I still prefer it to the others.
I would list the 14 sections of the score, but it’s just 11 unnamed sections, with a Pulses section to open and close the work.