Reich's Daniel Variations grew out of a commission in memory of Daniel Pearl, the reporter for The Wall Street Journal who was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan by Jihadi extremists in 2002. The work is scored for a chorus of sopranos, tenors, and chamber ensemble and uses as its texts brief quotes by Pearl and from the Book of Daniel. It inhabits very much the same soundworld as Reich's 1984 The Desert Music for chorus and orchestra: rhythmically charged pulsing chords; dense, but colorful harmonies; and abrupt modulations and tempo changes. It's on a smaller scale, though, and doesn't have The Desert Music's broad architectural rigor, or its variety of moods and textures. While it doesn't break any new ground for Reich, it revisits one of his most appealing creative periods and is fully convincing on its own more modest terms. Variations for vibes, pianos, and strings uses four vibraphones, two pianos, and three string quartets, and is also idiomatically related to Reich's works of the late '70s and early '80s, but because of its orchestration, its colors are more muted than the works for more diverse ensembles. It's a lively and attractive piece that should be of strong appeal to fans of works like Music for 18 musicians and Eight Lines. The performances by the Los Angeles Master Chorale conducted by Grant Gershon and London Sinfonietta conducted by Alan Pierson are immaculate, but don't quite achieve the springy dancing vitality of the most memorable Reich performances. Nonesuch's sound is a little close, so that the dense harmonic writing sounds a little murkier than it needs to and would have benefited from more clarity and brightness.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
|Daniel Variations, for chorus & chamber ensemble|
|Variations for vibes, pianos & strings|