REICH Three Movements. The Desert Music
For reasons he explained in the March 2011 issue of Gramophone, Steve Reich has never been at ease with orchestras, as either social or acoustic beings. The Desert Music and Three Movements come from that bewildering period of Reich’s career when, after the Midas touch of late 1970s masterworks like Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ, Music for 18 Musicians and Tehillim, he began to write for orchestra, which felt like a retreat to those of us who knew his music was special precisely because it wasn’t conceived for regular classical performers.
Three Movements (1986), alongside its sister piece The Four Sections, represents the nadir of Reich’s association with orchestral music, and Kristjan Järvi has nothing of substance to add to the “official” recording with the LSO under Michael Tilson Thomas, mainly because there isn’t much to add. After the structural revolutions of Drumming and Music for Eighteen Musicians, both tailor-made for Reich’s own ensemble, performers hardened to the demands of sustaining labyrinthine repetitions over biblical timeframes, Three Movements feels lightweight and dinky; The Desert Music at least unfolds with Reich’s familiar gravitas and structural impulsiveness.
Again, Tilson Thomas provides the reference recording – his 1984 performance with members of Reich’s Ensemble embedded inside the Brooklyn Philharmonic and Chorus – and, again, Järvi lacks a personal angle. MTT’s orchestral textures are clear-cut, precise, meticulously detailed. Järvi’s feel underdone and peaky; for a totem example compare the shrill glare of Tilson Thomas’s high woodwinds in the second movement to the anaemic tones here at around 1'02". On a positive note, the format allows the Chorus Sine Nomine’s muscular singing to shine; although in the case of Three Movements, SACD just means you can hear better how bad it is.