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Steve REICH (b. 1936)
Clapping Music [3:51]
Proverb [15:25]
Mallet Quartet [14:44]
Pulse [15:48]
Music for Pieces of Wood [14:36]
Synergy Vocals
Steve Reich (clapping)
Colin Currie Group/Colin Currie
rec. live, 2017, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris

In recent years Scottish percussionist Colin Currie and his group of musicians have become the European ensemble probably most closely associated with the music of Steve Reich, so it was a natural choice for them to be invited to be the ensemble-in-residence at the 2017 Steve Reich Presentation put on by and at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. They gave three concerts in two days, and five of the works they performed at those concerts are recorded here.

The disc opens with a strong performance by Currie and Reich of the iconic Clapping Music written in 1972. While there is no question that this is both an authoritative and compelling performance, the recorded sound is such that the physical presence of the two performers seems startlingly vivid.

The next work on the disc, Proverb of 1995, is, as Currie observes in his booklet note for the CD, “a lesser-performed work (and even less frequently recorded – this is only the second ever commercial recording of the piece)”. Scored for a vocal ensemble of three sopranos and two tenors along with two vibraphones and two electric organs, it is a piece which has rather more emotional depth and musical complexity than Reich’s usual style, and you get the feeling that it is that emotional depth which Currie exploits here in a performance which has a certain nervous energy to it, especially in the wordless tenor responses to the sopranos’ continually repeated mantra “How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life”. Currie describes the new building of the Fondation Louis Vuitton as resembling “a kind of fabulous spaceship”, and it is not to fanciful to hear in this performance a sense of other-worldly exploration as the vibraphones venture up and above the sustained tones of the organs and the timelessly circling singing of Synergy Vocals.

With Mallet Quartet of 2009 we return to very familiar Reich territory in both musical style and sound, the combination of two vibraphones and two marimbas creating that kind of softly pulsating tone which is such a distinctive feature of so much of his music. The driving energy of the outer movements, with their abrupt and energising shifts in pitch and key-centre, and the steadily moving discretion of the central interlude is superbly delivered by these four musicians led from the vibraphone by Currie.

Pulse, composed in 2015 and the most recent work on this disc, is described by Currie as “becalming melodies played in canon, a debonair bass guitar line, ringing piano repetitions; this work leads you by the hand on a deeply authentic Steve Reich journey”. He recalls how the initial rehearsal for the work in Paris created a “warm glow” among the performers. That warmth and sense of deep satisfaction informs this profoundly soothing performance, and while I’m not sure Currie’s enthusiasm for its “extraordinarily catchy lines” rings quite true from this performance, the “sweet yet often dissonant harmonies” are beautifully conveyed. A highly rewarding performance superbly recorded.

The CD closes as it began with one of Reich’s most iconic works from the early 1970s, Music for Pieces of Wood, in a punchy, invigorating performance which is magnificently captured in this excellent recording.

Marc Rochester

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