Steve REICH (b. 1936)
WTC 9/11 (2010) [15:54]
Different Trains (1988) [26:59]
Quatuor Tana
rec. June 2016, Studio Acoustique.
MEGADISC MDC7877 [42:55]

Steve Reich's WTC 9/11 was written in homage to the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Centre on 11th September 2001, and uses and adapts pre-recorded voices from witnesses and from the emergency services in action on the day. The music uses and develops around the patterns of these spoken words.

Anyone alive at the time cannot help be reminded of the events of that terrible day, and be moved by the content of this piece. You can listen to it as a concert work, but it also has the duel impact of something powerfully poetic.

Any string quartet approaching these works for recording will inevitably be under the shadow of the excellent Kronos Quartet. The Nonesuch label release of their version was produced in 2011, and this new recording is by no means entering a flooded market. Those looking into comparisons will note the difference in the use of illustration on the cover of each release. Reich’s original belief was “that a piece of music with documentary material from an event would best be matched with a documentary photograph of that event”. This was too shocking and controversial at the time, and so the Nonesuch illustration was replaced by a plume of smoke. The “unambiguous cover photo” for this release should be regarded in this context.

Different Trains deals with reminiscences around World War II, and its classic recording is that by the Kronos Quartet on the Nonesuch label from 1988. Subsequent recordings including this one can only have relatively minor differences in terms of performance given the strict boundaries set by the accompanying voice recordings. Quatuor Tana does a very good job, the recording more spacious than that with the Kronos Quartet, but the latter having better integration of those little solo lines in the general texture and a closer connection with the pre-recorded sounds. The balance with those sirens in Europe-During the War could be more direct and oppressive, so while the voices are clear enough there is more quartet sound in proportion with this newer recording.

Shuttling between the Kronos Quartet and Quatuor Tana in WTC 9/11 shows a similar shift in balance, with the voices more present and the strings on a more equal footing - clearly audible, but illustrating the text and inhabiting its expressive worlds more closely by occupying the same space rather than the more elegant but less highly integrated acoustic perspective offered here. These Quatuor Tana performances are very good indeed and if you want both of these works on a single disc then this is easily recommendable. For both pieces I would, however, on a purely aesthetic level give a preference to the Kronos Quartet.

Dominy Clements

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