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CLASSICAL  May 2005

CLASSICAL May 2005

Subject:

Reich Arranged

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 16 May 2005 05:59:50 -0500

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          Steve Reich
      After the Millennium

*  Triple Quartet
*  Electronic Guitar Phase (arr. Frasca)
*  Music for Large Ensemble (rev. Pierson)
*  Tokyo/Vermont Counterpoint (realized Yoshida)

Kronos Quartet
Dominic Frasca (guitar)
Alarm Will Sound, Ossia/Alan Pierson
Mika Yoshida (MIDI marimba)
Nonesuch 79546-2 Total time: 54:12

Summary for the Busy Executive: If you liked it once, you'll *love* it
twice.

The Big Three Minimalists - Reich, Adams, and Glass - have all moved
on, each in their own way, from straight-and-narrow Minimalism.  Never
mind that none of them liked the label; that's what we know that late
Sixties-early Seventies music by, and the label will probably stick.
Adams, always a very personal poet, has produced what I would call a
Deep Image music, after poets like Bly, Kinnell, Stafford, Wright, Merwin,
and Hall - music which evokes Jungian depths.  Glass now seems interested
in abstracting Romanticism, his violin concerto like an outline of the
Sibelius.  Reich, of the trio, has always built on his previous work.
Although you can no longer call his music Minimalist, you can still see
the connections.  You won't find a noticeable break, as you will in Adams
and Glass.

The constant in Reich's work has been phase, as it applies to rhythm -
particularly fitting for one who began as a percussionist.  Beginning
with his two tape pieces, "It's Gonna Rain" and "Come Out," which used
tape loops and overdubbing on two tape recorders playing at slightly
different speeds, Reich very quickly wondered whether humans could produce
the same effect unaided.  He has expanded the idea of phase and phase
shift with almost every work, methodically combining it with other
elements.  Rather than traditional development, the listener witnesses
a process unfolding, playing itself out.  Much of Reich's music contains
repetition, with subtle changes along the way.  It's worth noting that
Reich's ideas usually contain enough of interest to bear repeating.

All the pieces here fall to some extent into the categories of
arrangements and revisions.  The Triple Quartet exists in three versions:
string quartet and tape (of the other two quartets), three string quartets,
and string orchestra.  Kronos, who commissioned the piece, perform against
themselves on tape.  Reich wrote this work to some extent under the
inspiration of the Bartok fourth and the Schnittke second quartet.
The energy of those pieces inspired him most.

It's an interesting point.  Both Reich's models depend on strong contrast
to generate and release their energy.  On the other hand, black-and-white
contrast has never been a feature of Reich's music, and it's not here.
Listening to Reich's music shares a lot with watching the shifting shapes
of clouds.  Little elements gradually changing add up to big changes
over an extended period of time.  Nevertheless, Reich does work into
each of the quartet's three movements features of contrast, particularly
shifting tonal centers - a big deal, since I can't readily think of
another Reich piece that does this.  Reich cycles through e-minor,
g-minor, b-flat-minor, and c-sharp-minor tonalities (alert listeners
will spot the outline of a diminished-seventh chord) to distinguish the
large sections of each movement.  Because of the harmonic progression,
this work seems to me the closest Reich comes to the classical tradition.

In 2001, Dominic Frasca arranged Violin Phase from 1967 for electric
guitar and "virtual guitars" on tape.  In this very early piece,
one can hear fairly clearly the base on which Reich built his musical
language.  We listen to four parts getting out of and coming back into
phase.  The tonality never changes, so we wind up with a study in
mind-boggling polyrhythms.  It amazes me that the piece doesn't bore
me to tears, especially in its electric guitar version.  The instrument
simply doesn't strike me as expressively varied.  Nevertheless, there's
always something new in the piece, some new emphasis that holds my
attention.  But that's how it is with me and most of Steve Reich's music.

The version recorded here of Music for Large Ensemble differs from
the 1977 original and from the 1979 recording.  Pierson changed the
orchestration slightly, mainly making the voice and sax parts optional,
with the composer's blessing.  The piece delights with a jazzy three-four.
Here, the phasing occurs solely through human means, as the music gets
pushed bit by bit "ahead" of the bar line.  The basic musical cell varies
just enough, but it also contains a lot of interest in its own right.
The idea can take a lot of repetition, although this is one piece that
gains a great deal from the spatial aspects of the sonic image.  So
either put yourself in stereo listening position or wear earphones.

Tokyo / Vermont Counterpoint arranges the 1977 Vermont Counterpoint.
The original used a battery of flutes and piccolos.  However, Reich's
music is essentially rhythmic, and percussionists have tried to adapt
the piece.  However, the decay on real xylophones and marimbas is so
long that the counterpoint gets muddied.  Yoshida solves that problem
by using virtual marimbas, where the decay can last as long or as short
as she wants.  For me, her performance improves in every way on that of
the earlier recording, from the DG Reich boxed set, led by Ransom Wilson.
It's more sprightly, for one, lighter, less self-important.  I imagine
Reich writing it on a kind of busman's holiday.

I am almost always amazed at how high the standards of playing have risen
not only in my lifetime, but in the past thirty years.  I remember when
players gritted their teeth before tackling something like Reich's Music
for 18 Musicians.  Now they actually seem to have fun.  A wonderful set
of performances, and a jewel in Nonesuch's ongoing commitment to Reich's
music.

Steve Schwartz

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