REICH Cello Counterpoint; You Are (Variations)
With You Are (Variations), Reich has consciously moved sideways from recent works such as The Cave and Three Tales and returned to the earlier sound worlds of Tehillim and The Desert Music. Scored, like those works, for vocal ensemble and instruments, it also follows their lead in dealing in a more meditative fashion than the decidedly interrogative Three Tales, say, intended to do, with fundamental questions of existence (hence, of course the title’s ‘You Are’). The texts, all very short, in English and Hebrew, are drawn from an 18th-century Jewish mystic, the Psalms, Wittgenstein and the Talmud. While this bare list may sound highly improbable and even contradictory, Reich himself has said that he spent six months looking for the right texts, and they do indeed have a forceful logic and cohesion.
The shortness of the texts means that Reich has gone back to the techniques of Tehillim, in which very short ideas are also varied, rather than to the longer-breathed constructions of The Desert Music, and there is no doubt that it’s the aphoristic nature of the texts and their accompanying musical ideas that gives the work its power. The performance positively glitters; it seems quite clear that the Los Angeles Master Chorale under Grant Gershon are responding to the work’s intrinsic glow, the sense of spontaneity – the swing – in the music that Reich has rediscovered. And that swing is a fundamental element in Cello Counterpoint, which rounds off the disc. It is performed in this version by the remarkable Maya Beiser (formerly of the Bang On A Can All Stars) with seven pre-recorded parts – it may also be performed by eight live cellists. Beiser manages to make the eight parts sound very often as though they were one gigantic humming, strumming instrument, and while at times Reich’s contrapuntal chugging seems a little worthy, there’s no doubt that this is a work of real substance (and one that must be extremely effective heard live).