LABELS: Black Box
ALBUM TITLE: Reich , Mellits
WORKS: Reich: Different Trains, Piano Phase; Mellits: String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: The Duke Quartet; Andrew Russo, Marc Mellits (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: BBM 1097
There are now numerous recordings of Different Trains, including a fine interpretation by the Smith Quartet on Signum, but despite the piece’s passage into the repertoire they not unreasonably tend to be judged against the Kronos Quartet’s premier recording.
This example is similar to other post-Kronos takes on the piece in that it gives greater emphasis to the foregrounding of individual instruments while also managing to unite the instrumental lines with their verbal counterparts (a series of spoken recollections linked to the narrative) a little more decisively. It’s a very fine performance and really belongs on the shelves of any follower of Reich’s music.
In the end I still prefer the density and manic urgency of the original, but this really is a case of one differing from, rather than eclipsing, the other. The same can’t be said for this version of Piano Phase, which sees off the Nonesuch recording by the Double Edge duo quite decisively. This is a much more musically assured performance, while sonically the instrumental sound avoids the latter’s rather strident acoustic.
Mellits doubles as one half of the piano duo on this disc and as the composer of the second quartet, which was also originally written for the Kronos. As such he’s very much of the quartet-as-rock-band school, favouring lively rhythmic hooks and punchy melodic phrases in a work which sits in expertly-programmed equilibrium with Reich’s opener, the two animated quartets pivoting nicely about the fulcrum of the central piano piece. Overall, this is an excellent recording and I highly recommend it. If you’re new to Different Trains, check out the Kronos version as well. Roger Thomas