Riley: In C

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Riley
LABELS: Cypres
WORKS: In C
PERFORMER: Ictus, Blindman Kwartet
CATALOGUE NO: CYP 5601 (distr. Discovery)
Though the roots of minimalism stretch back at least into the Fifties, it really all began in 1964 with the first performance of Terry Riley’s In C in San Francisco, when it was played by a 13-piece ensemble that included Steve Reich, no less, on electric piano. From that point the iconic status of these 53 musical modules, all contained on a single sheet of paper and scored for ‘any number of any kind of instruments’ was assured, and it’s now claimed to be the most performed of all pieces of contemporary music in the last 40 years.

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The widely diverging results that can be produced from Riley’s compositional kit are graphically illustrated by this pair of live performances. That by the Brussels-based ensemble Ictus is what could be called a ‘classical’ reading, carefully shaped and controlled, so over the incessant pulse the music steadily and inevitably achieves its own kind of grandeur. The Quebec Contemporary Music Society, conducted by Walter Boudreau, takes a much freer line – smothering the outlines of Riley’s formulas with wailing brass, twanging sitars and vaguely oriental chanting. I thought it perfectly horrible, while the rest of the disc is electroacoustic mush by Donald Steven and Michel-Georges Brégent. But the performance evidently gets Riley’s seal of approval, so who am I to criticise? Andrew Clements