Steve REICH (b. 1936)
Triple Quartet (1998) [(Movement I [7:07]; Movement II [4:21]; Movement III [3:29]) [14:59]
Piano Counterpoint (arranged by Vincent Corver from Reich’s Six Pianos) (2011) [12:46]
Different Trains (1988) (America, Before the War [8:58]; Europe, During the War [7:30]; After the War [10:26]) [26:56]
London Steve Reich Ensemble/Kevin Griffiths
Vincent Corver (piano)
rec. Luzerner Saal, KKL, Lucerne, Switzerland, 4-5 June 2011
EMI CLASSICS 0873192 [54:43]

The London Steve Reich Ensemble continues its recordings of music by its namesake, minimalist composer. After a first recording on CPO, which I reviewed in 2008 (review), the group is now with EMI Classics. It’s not easy to find out whether there have been any other recordings in the interim; this group has one of the worst and most useless websites I’ve seen in a very long time.

This CD contains three works, two of them in versions that have not previously been recorded.

Triple Quartet is a work that was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, and composed in 1998. The “triple” part suggests that there are three string quartets, yet it was composed to be performed by one live string quartet and two others on tape. The present recording is by three actual string quartets, and is a very jaunty version, with excellent overall sound and meshing of the different instruments. The performance is not radically different from that recorded by the Kronos Quartet, but the sound, with three actual string quartets, is a bit better than that original recording.

The second work, Piano Counterpoint, is an arrangement for solo piano, by Vincent Corver, of Reich’s seminal 1973 work Six Pianos. In addition to being a reduction of the original work, it is much shorter; just shy of 15 minutes, compared to over 22 minutes for the original recording. Part of the difference in timing is the reduction of parts of the work, but the tempo is also much faster. On a single piano, this work comes off more as a series of variations played over a rhythmic base, and the phase shifting of the original is lost. Nevertheless, this stands up on its own as a very interesting, ebullient work for piano, one that, given the tempo, must be quite difficult to perform. In a comment from Steve Reich in the liner-notes, he says that the “piece … leaps up with energy and expression.” This is certainly a new way of looking at Six Pianos, and one that is quite successful.

The final work, Different Trains, is one of Reich’s works that uses voices on tape together with instruments (a string quartet), which at times mimic the voices. I confess to not really appreciating the works Reich has composed using this “speech melody” technique - The Cave, City Life and the recent WTC 9/11. I find that the voices are interesting the first time, but after subsequent listenings, become annoying. In addition, there is little room for flexibility in the musicians’ performance, because of the need to stick to the tempo of the taped voices. The only options performers have are in dynamics, and in a work like this - again, in part because of the prominence of the voices - even that is limited. If you have a recording of Different Trains, you certainly don’t need this one.

All in all, this is an excellent CD for those unfamiliar with Steve Reich’s works. The combination of the two works for string quartet(s) and the piano piece makes for an interesting program. The first two works are unique recordings, if you’re a Steve Reich collector, but Different Trains is more or less what is already on record.

Kirk McElhearn
Kirkwrites about more than just music on his blog Kirkville (

see also review by Rob Barnett

Continuing with recordings of music by Steve Reich, this eponymous ensemble offers two works in unrecorded versions, along with one that’s just like the “official” recording.