> Steve Reich - Variations [KM]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Steve REICH (1936-)

Variations for Winds, Strings and Keyboards*

San Francisco Symphony, Edo de Waart
Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ**
Six Pianos**

Steve Reich and Musicians
Rec: * October 1983, Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco. ** January 1974, Musikstudio I, Hamburg.
DG 471-591 2 [66.42]


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Steve Reich is one of the founders and leading proponents of minimalism, a musical current that is based on a repetitive approach, or, as Reich calls it, ‘gradual music’. Reich’s work explores the subtle discoveries that can be made as his music progresses through melody lines that repeat, become familiar, then change in tiny ways. Two of Reich’s seminal works, and two of his earliest works to truly succeed in this approach, are included on this "compilation" CD: the 1973 compositions Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ and Six Pianos. In 1974, Deutsche Grammophon released these works in a three-LP set together with Drumming, and this set the stage for minimalism to be recognized beyond the limited horizons of downtown New York.

Both of these works feature extensive repetition, and gradual shifts in melody, which give the listener a strange feeling of participating in the music as it progresses. Both of these pieces introduce phase shifting, where the instruments play in sync for a while, then one or more of them play off the rhythm, slowly shifting until they come full circle and rejoin the main rhythm. In the opinion of this reviewer, Six Pianos is one of the finest musical compositions of all time, and I vividly recall the first time I heard it, some time in the late 1970s - the discovery at the end of this entrancing piece, that the music has followed a cycle, and not just offered some 24 minutes of repetition, was quite surprising.

Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ is in the same vein, with a series of repeated motifs played on marimbas and glockenspiels, with an electric organ pulsing in the background, and voices singing in tones that vary in length as the piece progresses.

The 1979 composition Variations for Winds, Strings and Keyboards was one of Reich’s first commissions for an orchestra. This work, similar to his Music for 18 Musicians, composed around the same period, is less repetitive than the two older pieces, and develops melodies a bit more, yet still maintains Reich’s signature sound.

This disc is a compilation of two of Steve Reich’s finest and most important works, together with another compelling piece for orchestra. Not only are these among the founding works of minimalism, but they are highly enjoyable. If you have never heard this music, this disc is the perfect way to discover one of the most interesting and enduring forms of contemporary classical music, and one that does not, in any way, assault the ears.

Note: For those who own the Nonesuch box set of Steve Reich’s works, released in 1997, this includes the two major works that were missing from that set.

Kirk McElhearn

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