Reich: Sextet; Piano phase; Eight lines

WORKS: Sextet; Piano phase; Eight lines
PERFORMER: London Steve Reich ensemble/Kevin Griffiths
CATALOGUE NO: 777 337-2
These performances have the composer’s approval (he says they ‘pulse with life’ and praises the LSRE’s ‘superb feel’) but they also have stiff competition. Piano Phase, one of Reich’s earliest pieces, applies the phasing technique developed through tape works to live performance: one pianist gradually moves a beat ahead of the other until arriving back in unison. This version is considerably shorter than that by Double Edge (Nonesuch) and some people may regard that as a plus-point. There’s a distinct echo in the Nonesuch ambience, which is nonetheless more incisive than the present recording, good though this is. On Wergo, Ensemble Avantgarde sounds rather hurried, but this gives an exciting edge and stresses patterns less evident in other realisations.Eight Lines, one of Reich’s most frequently recorded pieces, uses augmentation to construct some of his most charming melodies. Of currently-available versions the one by the London Chamber Orchestra (Virgin) is rather too lush, Bang On a Can’s (Nonesuch) is, for them, astonishingly laid-back, whilst Ensemble Modern (RCA) delineates the constituent parts clearly but at the expense of the overall effect. The LSRE hits a nice balance.Their performance of the canonic Sextet, more softly-textured than Reich’s recording (Nonesuch), is faithful to Reich’s intention of achieving sustained effects with percussion instruments. It’s lively and may appeal to those who usually find Reich too spiky.