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Briefly Noted: Music for 18 Musicians

available at Amazon
S. Reich, Music for 18 Musicians, Ensemble Signal, B. Lubman

(released on May 12, 2015)
HMU 907608 | 59'17"
A few major works come to mind as defining the outline of "minimalism" (the term that everyone loves to hate) in music: Terry Riley's In C, Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach, and Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians. The last piece, premiered just a few months before Einstein in 1976, is the yin to Einstein's yang in some ways: concision rather than sprawl, precision rather than sloppy excess. Steve Reich, who is approaching his 80th birthday, has recorded the work twice: a visceral live recording with ECM, and a less ordered and longer version on Nonesuch (not because of tempo but because of the choices on number of repetitions). Reich's recordings complicate the field for any other competitors, but there have been a few nonetheless.

This new recording by Ensemble Signal is the second to appear under the leadership of Brad Lubman, who helped supervise the recording by Ensemble Modern in the 90s. With four players loaned from Third Coast Percussion, Lubman here conducts a group of twenty, which helps ease some of the doubling issues, and he even takes the third marimba part in Section VII. (Vocalist and Pulitzer-winner Caroline Shaw is heard on Voice 2.) The otherwise excellent recording by the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble, from 2008, appealed for its excellent sound and for a slightly slower, more easy-going feel to it. Here the piece has more of the not rushed but impelled feel of Reich's first recording, hitting a timing that is just a minute longer than the Ensemble Modern disc. The audio engineering is also top-notch, revealing every articulation, crescendo, and nuance in vivid sonic detail. Put it on the shelf with the other recordings, along with the recordings we wish would be made, like the performance by the Ensemble Intercontemporain embedded below.

1 comment:

Barry Lyons said...

I think Reich is on record as saying that the recording by the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble (from 2013) is his favorite.