London Steve Reich Ensemble

Reich: Different Trains; Piano Counterpoint; Triple Quartet

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The hook for this terrific recording of three of Steve Reich's most attractive works is the use of alternate versions of the several pieces that differ from the original recordings on Nonesuch. This recording has Reich's imprimatur; he enthusiastically recommends the performances in a program note. The most radical departure from the original version is Piano Counterpoint, Vincent Corver's arrangement of Six Pianos for a single live pianist with the other five parts prerecorded. This allows the piece to fit nicely into Reich's "Counterpoint" series, which includes Vermont Counterpoint for flutes and New York Counterpoint for clarinets. Corver also speeds up the tempo so the piece has an even more propulsive aural energy, although in live performance it's hard to beat the visceral excitement of six pianists on-stage.

The London Steve Reich Ensemble version of the Triple Quartet, unlike the Kronos Quartet's premiere recording, uses three live quartets, and is one of three performance options that Reich specified in the score, the third being an orchestral version with 36 players. This is the first commercial recording of this version. There may not be a huge audible difference between this version and the one with a single live quartet with two recorded parts, but the give and take of the 12 live performers gives this reading a vitality (and nuanced flexibility) that's undeniably gripping. The Triple Quartet is one of Reich's most aggressively dissonant pieces, with a harmonic palette that's broader and edgier than is typical for the composer, but it should still appeal to his fans. The group also gives a tremendously exciting performance of Different Trains, one that confirms its reputation as a masterpiece of late 20th century composition. The balance and engineering are beautifully handled so that the rush of live and recorded sound creates an overwhelming emotional impact. An indispensible recording for anyone who loves Reich's music and highly recommended for fans of new music.

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