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Music 4 Hands
Steve REICH (b. 1936)
Piano Phase (1967) [18:20]
Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
Six Scenes from Les Enfants Terribles (1996) [32:40]: (Overture; The Bedroom; Paul Sleepwalking; Snow Falling in the Playground; Elizabeth Chooses a Career; Death of the Twins/Finale)
Maki Namekawa and Dennis Russell Davies (pianos)
rec. no date given, Brucknerhaus, Linz, Studio Weinberg, Kafermarkt

Orange Mountain Records was “created to serve the fans, aficionados and academics studying the music of Philip Glass”. It features music by Glass, along with occasional releases of “other artists that have collaborated with or have been associated with Philip Glass” (see below for reviews of other Orange Mountain releases). This disc contains works by both Philip Glass and Steve Reich, together the two “founding fathers” of east-coast minimalism.
The first work, Reich’s Piano Phase, is a piece for two pianos where each instrument plays the same short melodic statements slightly out of phase. At first, the two pianos play simultaneously, then they slowly drift out of phase, so one can hear the slight difference in timing between them. They drift in and out of phase throughout the work, and change from one simple, repetitive melody to another. While one might call this “fundamentalist minimalism”, it has its attractions. It is a very relaxing piece of music, in spite of the quirkiness of the phase changes, and like much of Reich’s early music, reveals much more than a simple description can provide.
This performance has a much lighter sound than that recorded by Steve Reich himself, which, though two minutes longer, is played slightly faster. (I’m not sure if this score is open-ended, as Terry Riley’s In C, where performers can play each segment as long as they want.) However, this recording has the sound of both pianos in the centre of the soundscape, making it more difficult to appreciate the sound of each instrument. The Reich recording has a fair amount of reverb - perhaps too much? - which gives it more of a “surround” sound, and adds warmth and color to the phasing effect.
Whatever the case, this performance sounds much more wooden and deliberate than the Reich recording, and doesn't have any magic. The performers play the piece, and that’s all. While one may say that minimalist music, especially of this type, precludes any individualism in performance, this recording belies that idea.
The second work, or more correctly set of works, on this disc is a piano arrangement of several scenes from Glass’ Les Enfants Terribles.  The original work, written for three pianos and four vocal soloists, has a sound that is not very different from this recording - sans voices, of course. Curiously, the “six scenes” have different names from the original, so even comparing this disc with its parent is a difficult affair. But, as with the Reich piece, the music on this recording sounds too “deliberate” and wooden compared to the original. There is energy in Glass’s Enfants Terribles - even if one considers the sound without the voices; this recording sounds metronomic and stilted. As with the Reich, there is a concentration of the soundscape, as though the producers wanted to make these two pianos sound as one; the original Glass recording has more space, allowing the different pianos to be heard.
All in all, this is not a disagreeable disc, but comparisons with original recordings of the works it contains put it a few notches down as far as sound and performances. The recording, with the two pianos concentrated in the centre of the soundscape, may have been intentional to erase the distinction between the two instruments, but to my ears, it sounds flat and lacks depth. The music itself is attractive - if one likes minimalism, as I do - but the performances are overly rigid. For one unfamiliar with minimalism, this disc presents two very different types of music: the first, Piano Phase, a more “theoretical” work, designed as an experiment; the second, the scenes from Les Enfants Terribles, a more lyrical work, written for the theatre, which contains some very catchy melodies and moving music.
Kirk McElhearn


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Reviews of other Orange Mountain CDs
OMM0010 - The Fog of War
OMM0012 - The Hours (Piano Solo)
OMM0014 - Concerto Project Vol. 1 (Cello concerto, concert fantasy for two timpanists)
OMM0016 - Undertow
OMM0019 - Les Enfants Terribles
OMM0020 - Symphony No. 6 Plutonium Ode
OMM0021 - Orion


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