REICH 'Live at Fondation Louis Vuitton’
With performances by Steve Reich and Musicians – Reich’s own group – becoming a far less regular occurrence these days, it has been left largely to others to record and perform his music. The list now includes several important ensembles, ranging from Paul Hillier and Theatre of Voices, Alan Pierson and Alarm Will Sound, Brad Lubman and Signal Ensemble, Ictus Ensemble, Third Coast Percussion and Powerplant to soloists such as Kuniko Kato.
Among the most important to make their mark on Reich’s music is the Colin Currie Group. The virtuoso percussionist’s ensemble team up again with Synergy Vocals for this recording, which captures two performances given in the opulent surroundings of Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, in December 2017.
As is often the case these days when the composer himself is present, Currie and Reich kick off with a punchy performance of Clapping Music. A strong rhythmic focus is maintained for Music for Pieces of Wood and the more recent Mallet Quartet, where two marimbas provide a rock-steady rhythmic pedal against which two vibraphones overlay a series of complex interlocking patterns. A powerful rhythmic incisiveness and assertiveness that marked the group’s excellent recording of Drumming (5/18) is again apparent throughout.
The two remaining compositions present Reich’s music in a more reflective light. The opening of the most recent work featured here, Pulse, is taken at a steadier pace than on the recent recording by the International Contemporary Ensemble (Nonesuch, 4/18). This enables Currie, now directing, to impart a slightly more dramatic curve to the work’s gently undulating trajectory.
Composed in 1995, the aphoristic Proverb sees Reich pay homage to Pérotin via an epigram from the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (‘How small a thought it takes to build a whole life!’). Live performances of Proverb have been quite rare, partly because of its unusual instrumentation (a combination of three female and two male voices, two MIDI electric organs and two vibraphones), but also because of the technical demands it places on the singers, who have to navigate a quite treacherous tonal tightrope. The original recording, featuring Paul Hillier and Theatre of Voices, was probably pieced together from a patchwork of edits. Other than a little wobble in the middle section, where the music suddenly shifts downwards semitonally from B minor to a kind of E flat minor over a pedal B flat, Synergy Vocals impart a beautiful, haunting performance, whose quiescence quietly defuses the energy and explosiveness of the rhythmic pieces.