What is that phrase? "The show must go on." I suppose it does. Today, and in lieu of doing anything of any remote importance, I am sharing a recording of multiple Steve Reich works conducted by Reich. I was pleased to pick this from the stacks at a local chain's newest location nearby, mint and for the right price I might add. The recordings, especially Octet and Music for a Large Ensemble, seem to pick up where the infamous Music for 18 Musicians piece left off in terms of the minimalist style. That may be a deal breaker for those who become adamantly reluctant at the thought of minimalism. As a disclaimer, you are unlikely to enjoy these works if you did not enjoy 18 Musicians. Admittedly, as much as I enjoy and admire Reich's superb phasing technique, it can become onerous during casual listening. In terms of minimalism and in the frame of casual listening, unless the piece grabs me within the opening phrase I can become turned off. I think similar can be said for most listeners, and especially those uninitiated or otherwise unfamiliar with the style. Also, listening to Vile's "Solution" and then Reich's "Violin Phase" immediately thereafter is a difficult transition.
Pontificating complete. Now I am going to discuss the music... wait, don't go. As previously stated, Music for a Large Ensemble can be considered the third continuation of Reich's preceding "Music for..." works. The piece contains four sections, each with concise phrases that are augmented throughout and then shortened through diminution. The piece uses what is apparently the largest ensemble that Reich had ever used at the time, twenty-nine musicians if you include the Reich's piano as well. Prior to this recording, the original piece went through a small evolution (or devolution depending on your opinion): it was shrunk from twenty-one minutes to sixteen after a section was removed; instruments were added and removed; and finally, the piece was played faster than originally intended. According to the extensive liner notes, each section is in an arch form which is notated as (A*B*C*B*A). This is probably my favorite piece on the record, and is one which I assume casual listeners will enjoy most for its lovely, violin-led opening phrase. It is a mostly bright work with a relaxing atmosphere and themes similar to 18 Musicians. This is a valid introduction to the composer, and a vital listen for all.
Violin Phase is the oldest piece on this record, both in terms of age and technique. The piece was written in 1967 and is a prime example of phasing. It is written for one violin, but requires that the musician play against three recordings of himself. The musician slowly plays ahead of the tapes, and patterns are both formed and found. The piece sounds ancient when juxtaposed against the other two recordings, and rightly so as it is over a decade older than them. The fifteen-minute piece can quickly become monotonous for casual listeners. It is more interesting than it is enjoyable; it is something to admire as expression and an art I suppose. It is nonetheless a great introduction to Reich's phasing.
Octet sounds similar to Reich's "Music for" works and is simply radiating with his touch. It is a beautiful piece blooming from two pianos, which are complemented with the lingering, nearly invariable strings and a propulsive wind section mostly dominated by flute and clarinet. I know I said Large Ensemble was my favorite here, but in terms of energy... well, I guess it's a tie really. Octet carries on with the same themes and motivations, but focuses on wind rather than percussion. Enjoyable recording and also nice place to start with the composer.
It seems that the recordings on this record are somewhat unpopular, perhaps permanently overshadowed by Reich's magnum opus which has already been mentioned far too many times in this entry. Whether you have heard Reich before or not, there are bright moments to be discovered here. I would say that these recordings, apart from Violin Phase, are a kinder introduction to Reich if you are entirely unfamiliar with him. That is my opinion anyway.
This was released on ECM Records and has the potential for a takedown notice.
Steve Reich - Octet/Music for a Large Ensemble/Violin Phase MediaFire