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Reich: Tehillim, The Desert Music / A. Pierson, Ossia, Et Al

Release Date: 09/10/2002 
Label:  Cantaloupe   Catalog #: 21009   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Steve Reich
Performer:  Alan Pierson
Conductor:  Alan Pierson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  OssiaAlarm Will Sound
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 15 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The young, New York-based Cantaloupe Music (affiliated with the founders of Bang on a Can) is quickly building quite a discography. The catalogue traverses both premiere recordings, such as Evan Ziporyn's stunning This is not a Clarinet--a disc that ranks as an absolute must-hear and one of the most exciting releases of recent years--and items very familiar to contemporary music fans (Terry Riley's In C). Although any record company venture is an inherent gamble, there's a particular risk for such a tyro label to issue already-recorded works. Take as an example de Leeuw's Tehillim for Nonesuch, or Steve Reich's own 1982 reading for ECM, which has been the standard-bearer for a generation. Why go at
Read more this same work yet another time?

Well, in the case of Alan Pierson's version with the ensemble Ossia, the answer is simple. Not only does he have a new perspective to offer, but he and his forces better Reich's recording. (It's worth noting as well that Pierson made a change to Reich's original instrumental arrangement; it is the same as the composer's chamber version of the piece, but adds a second string quartet.) Pierson's comfort and self-assuredness in these works are obvious. The vocals (featuring high soprano Elizabeth Phillips and lyric sopranos Akiko Fujimoto and Carolyn Dorey) are more confident and sure-footed--an achievement considering all the leaps Reich demands. Cantaloupe's brashly forward, bright sound also is miles above ECM's comparative dimness. The rhythms are vigorous and yet never sound mechanical (as in de Leew's version). Perhaps the most interesting result of all of these changes is a shift in the overall mood of the piece: whereas the ECM recording conjures a hypnotic feeling, this is pure ebullience--entirely fitting for the Biblical texts of praise used in Tehillim ("Psalms").

The Desert Music also is transformed. As with Tehillim, this piece exists in two versions, one for a chamber-sized ensemble, the other for symphonic forces. Unlike Tehillim, which is best known in its smaller arrangement (but can be heard in its orchestral form in a flat and disappointing performance with Zubin Mehta on the New York Philharmonic's 10-disc "American Celebrations" set), The Desert Music probably is most familiar in its larger setting, on a recording with Michael Tilson Thomas and the Brooklyn Philharmonic (Nonesuch). With Reich's permission, Pierson prepared his own edition of the piece that combines elements of Reich's two versions--in short, it's Reich's chamber arrangement with seven brass players added--and Reich is happy enough with it to declare this the new standard chamber version. Played by Alarm Will Sound and Ossia, Pierson's arrangement is broadly textured yet retains a certain intimacy that fits well with the William Carlos Williams poetry used here. As with Tehillim, the tautness, freshness, and enthusiasm in this recording casts a new light; here, the piece's vibrancy and lightness is remarkable. All around, it's a superb release, one in which Cantaloupe's gamble has paid off handsomely.
--Anastasia Tsioulcas, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

Desert Music by Steve Reich
Performer:  Alan Pierson (Vibraphone)
Conductor:  Alan Pierson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ossia,  Alarm Will Sound
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1984; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2001 
Venue:  Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY 
Length: 43 Minutes 47 Secs. 
Tehillim by Steve Reich
Conductor:  Alan Pierson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ossia
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1981; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/1999 
Venue:  Studios at Linden Oaks, Rochester, NY 
Length: 30 Minutes 51 Secs. 

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