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Steve Reich: Sextet, Piano Phase, Eight Lines / Griffiths, London Steve Reich Ensemble

Release Date: 11/20/2007 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 777337   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Steve Reich
Conductor:  Kevin Griffiths
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Steve Reich Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 57 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

REICH Sextet. Piano Phase. 1 Eight Lines Kevin Griffiths, cond; London Steve Reich Ens; Vincent Corver (pn); 1 Keith Ford (pn) 1 cpo 777 337 (57:16)

Piano Phase , from 1967, is one of a handful of early works that Reich still acknowledges. Derived from the phasing process Reich discovered Read more while constructing such tape pieces as Come Out , it demands complete concentration from the performers for its effects to work. Luckily, Corver and Ford are fully up to the task at hand, producing a compelling and vigorous performance. The closely miked sound features good channel separation, clarifying the density of the two-piano texture, and thus rendering the phasing process clear. The Nonesuch recording by Double Edge (Nurit Tilles and Edmund Niemann, veterans of Steve Reich and Musicians) has a more spacious acoustic with a sharper, drier quality and channel separation as clear as that of the cpo disc, allowing the listener to follow the changes in phase and pitch easily. More important, the Nonesuch performance is 50 percent longer than the London one, a difference of about seven minutes, presumably due to the observance of a greater number of repeats. The listener’s interest in (or tolerance for) Piano Phase will probably dictate his or her preference for one of these recordings.

In the performance of Eight Lines , the initial attacks from the violins (a double-string quartet, the only difference between this piece and its now-deleted predecessor, the Octet) are sharp and precise; sharp, too is the rhythmic pulse, producing a jumpy edge to the piece, abetted by the dry acoustic. The LSRE performance is again shorter than the Reich-endorsed Nonesuch performance by Bang on a Can, though the main difference is in the phrasing, which tends to be a sharper staccato, driving the piece a bit harder than on the Nonesuch. A performance by the Ensemble Modern on RCA features sound that produces a better instrumental balance—the bass is notably deeper and more defined, adding dimensionality to the acoustic. My overall preference is for the Nonesuch—though all three are excellent; Bang on a Can’s is less purely propulsive, capturing more of the wistful, melancholy string-writing at the heart of the piece.

This new performance of the Sextet is a minute longer than that by Reich’s ensemble (Nonesuch), resulting in a very effective reading of this multifaceted work. There is notable differentiation to the instrumental voices—prominent pianos give way to shimmering mallet instruments in part I, with the bowed vibraphones adding yet another color (one unusual aspect of this recording is the absence of synthesizers, unexplained in the notes). Reich’s recording presents less of an extreme contrast, producing a more homogenized sound. Amadinda, on Hungaroton, sounds similar to the cpo disc (but is less brilliantly realized). The London performance catches the jazzy syncopations as well as the more melodic, sultry aspects of the second and fourth movements.

This is a standout performance, due in some measure to the ringing clarity of the sound; more important is the superb musicianship of the performers—they clearly have this music in their blood. Seldom have I heard this level of commitment in a non-Reich-directed performance. I heard Reich and Musicians perform this piece in Boston 20 years ago, and one of the many pleasures of that concert was in watching the musicians quietly, efficiently moving around the instruments, producing those amazing sounds. I imagine that a concert of the London Steve Reich Ensemble would be a similar experience. As the composer himself writes in the booklet, “The London Steve Reich Ensemble is an outstanding group of young musicians. They have a superb feel for how to play my music and you can experience that on this excellent CD. These performances pulse with life.” What more need be said?

FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
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Works on This Recording

Sextet by Steve Reich
Conductor:  Kevin Griffiths
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Steve Reich Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1985; USA 
Date of Recording: 10/2006 
Venue:  Tonhalle, Zürich, Switzerland 
Length: 27 Minutes 22 Secs. 
Piano Phase by Steve Reich
Conductor:  Kevin Griffiths
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Steve Reich Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1967; USA 
Date of Recording: 10/2006 
Venue:  Tonhalle, Zürich, Switzerland 
Length: 13 Minutes 40 Secs. 
Eight Lines by Steve Reich
Conductor:  Kevin Griffiths
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Steve Reich Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1979/1983; USA 
Date of Recording: 10/2006 
Venue:  Tonhalle, Zürich, Switzerland 
Length: 16 Minutes 10 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Sextet (in 5 movements): I. [Fast] -
Sextet (in 5 movements): II. [Moderate] -
Sextet (in 5 movements): III. [Slow] -
Sextet (in 5 movements): IV. [Moderate] -
Sextet (in 5 movements): V. [Fast]
Piano Phase
Eight Lines

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Does It Get Better Than This? July 19, 2012 By D. Thomas (Altadena, CA) See All My Reviews "This recording sets a new high water mark for Steve Reich's music on disc. The playing is outstanding throughout. The ensemble work is remarkably tight and accurate in music that benefits greatly from such precision. But what is still more impressive is that these are very musical, even lyrical performances that find opportunities for expressive playing in the midst of the percussive rigor of Reich's music. This creates a beautiful counterpoint between melodic and rhythmic aspects of the music, mining new possibilities that surprise and fascinate. The recording quality sounds fresh and live. I highly recommend this recording for Reich aficionados and initiates alike." Report Abuse
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