So Percussion

Steve Reich: Drumming

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Steve Reich: Drumming is the second release on Cantaloupe by Brooklyn-based percussion ensemble So Percussion. Reich's minimalist masterwork doesn't leave a lot of room for interpretation or error -- you either play it well or you don't, and if one person in the group is a little off it upsets the whole apple cart. So Percussion plays the work exactly as it goes, and is helped in this performance by Steve Reich and Musicians veterans Rebecca Armstrong and Jay Clayton in providing the vocal parts. Erin Lesser plays the scant, but important, piccolo part.

This is Drumming on a diet, as there are only four players used in the lineup of So Percussion that made this recording. Presumably, at least some of it is overdubbed, as the score calls for nine percussionists. It is also played at a significantly faster clip than in the famous 1974 Deutsche Grammophon first recording of the work, which topped out at 85 minutes, but it is not as fast as Reich's 1987 recording for Nonesuch, barely over an hour long. So Percussion's overall tempo is chosen well, and brings the work in between the two poles of the composer's timings at 70 minutes. This performance follows Reich's score without being so much as a hair off, yet compared to Reich's own now rather quaint 1974 rendering, the So Percussion recording is somewhat lacking in terms of a distinctive character -- it is like the smooth surface of a pond with exactly symmetrical ripples flowing toward land. Yet Drumming, played up to speed with no mistakes, doesn't allow for a lot in the way of variation -- properly played, it is sort of like a machine.

Nonetheless, one will not find a better representation of Drumming on disc; it is almost like Pierre Boulez' Deutsche Grammophon recording of Le Sacre du printemps in that, were one to look at a particular spot in the score, together with So Percussion's recording, what one hears is exactly what one sees. Cantaloupe's engineering, too, is excellent.

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