Reich: Music for 18 Musicians

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WORKS: Music for 18 Musicians
PERFORMER: Bob Becker, Russell Hartenberger (drums); Ensemble Modern, Members of Steve Reich Ensemble/Bradley Lubman
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 68672 2
I first heard Music for 18 Musicians performed by the (then) Leicester Polytechnic’s music department. It was a moving experience, not least because it seemed to represent a true democratisation of musical performance. The students did not have to be individually virtuosic instrumentalists to pull off this great feat of synchronicity. What I didn’t realise was that it had not only taken months of rehearsal, but that even getting hold of parts was practically impossible – they had to be transcribed from tapes at that time. For all the apparent ‘free for all’ atmosphere created by Reich’s music, he actually exerts a ruthless control on his material and its performance. So, this is the first recording of Music for 18 Musicians not directed by the man himself.


Having heard it since many times in concert, the tendency is for the speeds (up to 208 beats a minute) to lag and for instrumentalists to overweight their notes in search of deeper sonority. Lubman’s performance is ideal: it cannot be faulted on speed, at times it seems to tick along even faster than the original, while its rainbow of timbres are beautifully polished and balanced. Reich once wrote that he imagined a group drumming on a beach, the waves washing slowly up on the shore over their bare feet. The clarinets and human voices are indeed measured by the human breath, which surges in and out, while the other instruments are ruled by digital metronome. It is the exact tension held between these two measures, and the handling of the curvaceous crescendos, which give life to this work of precision engineering. A triumph. Helen Wallace