eighth blackbird / Bang on a Can

Steve Reich: Double Sextet; 2x5

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Steve Reich's 2007 Double Sextet, which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize, is given its first performance by eighth blackbird, the group for whom it was written. For most of his career, Reich has constructed his music with canons using matched pairs of instruments, and he writes that when he was presented with the request from eighth blackbird, he felt he could only write the piece for two identical ensembles, with the live players performing to an accompaniment they had previously recorded, creating the effect of two antiphonal sextets. It's that version that's played here, although both Reich and the ensemble agree that an ideal live performance would feature 12 players. That is somewhat less of an issue in a recording of the piece than in a concert setting, but it is in fact easy to imagine that the give and take of two live sextets could produce subtly different results. Except for conventionality of the instrumentation -- Pierrot ensemble plus percussion -- the Double Sextet doesn't particularly break new ground for Reich, but it's the territory of Eight Lines and Music for Eighteen Musicians in which he's endlessly inventive, and it's loads of fun to hear him so happily and imaginatively at play. Like many of his instrumental works, it's in three movements -- fast, slow, fast -- as is his 2008 2x5 for a double quintet of rock instruments, also recorded for the first time with players from Bang On A Can playing against a recording of themselves. Both works are bright and frisky, saturated with contrapuntal zigzagging, but the Double Sextet is the subtler and more substantial. They receive absolutely top-notch virtuoso performances by their respective ensembles and should certainly delight the composer's fans and listeners who enjoy the cross-pollination of rock and classical that is Reich's specialty. Nonesuch's sound is immaculate and beautifully engineered.

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