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Reich: You Are (Variations), Cello Counterpoint

Release Date: 09/27/2005 
Label:  Nonesuch   Catalog #: 79891   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Steve Reich
Performer:  Maya Beiser
Conductor:  Grant Gershon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Los Angeles Master Chorale
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 38 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

With a strange sense of déjà vu, I feel I am rewriting my review of Arvo Pärt?s newest release, which appears earlier in this issue. What I mean is that both my mindset brought into the listening and my reaction are comparable between the recording of Pärt?s new piano concerto and this, Reich?s release of two new works, one of them a large-scale work for chamber choir and orchestra. Reich?s last few works have seemed somewhat formulaic to me. His Different Trains (1988) for string quartet and pre-recorded part was an invigorating Read more shock; Reich discovered in this piece a technique by which speech rhythms generated by taped interviews could be translated into his trademark compact repetitive motives. That work was thrilling, but the video-operas that followed in its wake, The Cave (1990?93) and Three Tales (1997?2002), never generated as much energy or excitement for me?though I did find the third tale of the latter, ?Dolly,? to be a challenging romp. Now we have two works that in a sense are a throwback to earlier Reich, yet they also project a powerful sense of renewal.

You Are (Variations) , written in 2004, comes closest in sound and spirit to Tehillim (1981) , a setting of Hebrew proverbs for three voices and small ensemble, one of the composer?s most joyful and ingratiating works. You Are is written for a choir of only six voices (three sopranos, one alto, and two tenors; no basses, the resultant lightness of sound being almost an inversion of Stravinsky?s omitting the violins in Symphony of Psalms ), with a chamber orchestra of winds, strings, percussion, and most important, four pianos. It sets four epigrammatic texts, one to a movement. The texts alternate between English and Hebrew, range from the Talmud to Wittgenstein, and are each only a sentence long. As a result, for musical structures of any length, Reich needs to vary their setting, and hence the (Variations) of the title. The result is music of driving precision and great imagination. The rhythms?while superficially straight in their common pulse?are, in fact, subtle and constantly shifting. There is a lot of very sophisticated counterpoint going on, especially in Reich?s use of canon. Indeed, this work, more than many I have heard of his, suggests a masterful practice that is almost Bachian. There?s a grand balance between the linear and horizontal throughout, leavened by the propulsive rhythms.

Cello Counterpoint (2003) is another in the series of Reich?s works for solo instrument overlapped with multiple recorded parts of itself (or, in rare realizations, a choir of said instrument). (If he keeps at it, this series is going to begin to rival Berio?s Sequenzi as one of the great solo series of the era.) This work is also contrapuntally dense yet texturally transparent. And like the choral work, it projects harmonies that are often more chromatic and rapidly changing than those one usually associates with Reich.

Like the Pärt, the timing of this disc is definitely short, and I wish it could be longer. But I?m also happy to have such strong music available earlier rather than later. The third and fourth movements of You Are seem a little less inspired to me than the first two (which make up almost two thirds of the work?s duration), but that?s an impression that might change on further encounters. Certainly, on the first few listenings, the overall impression of the work is that of a master at work. The performances are to die for: incisive, energetic, and utterly idiomatic. More and more, Reich sounds like an enduring American voice whose language is totally his own and of the best of his culture.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Cello Counterpoint by Steve Reich
Performer:  Maya Beiser (Cello)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2003; New York City 
Venue:  Kilgore Sound & Recording, New York, NY 
Length: 11 Minutes 31 Secs. 
Notes: Cello Counterpoint is scored for one live cello accompanied by a tape of seven previously recorded cello tracks. Maya Beiser plays all eight of the cello tracks heard on this recording.
Kilgore Sound & Recording, New York, NY (09/29/2003 - 09/30/2003) 
You Are by Steve Reich
Conductor:  Grant Gershon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Los Angeles Master Chorale
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2004; USA 
Venue:  Capitol Studio A, Hollywood, California 
Length: 26 Minutes 57 Secs. 
Notes: Capitol Studio A, Hollywood, California (03/29/2005 - 03/30/2005)
This selection is sung in English and Hebrew. 

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