LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: City Life; New York Counterpoint; Eight Lines (Octet); Violin Phase
PERFORMER: Jagdish Mistry (violin); Ensemble Modern/Peter Rundel, Bradley Lubman
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 66459 2
Running backwards through three decades, this mini-retrospective opens with one of Steve Reich’s most powerful creations. City Life builds drama from Stravinskian Baroque chords, recorded street life and musical speech-rhythms, to end with a now-uncanny sampling of firemen’s shouts at the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (the piece was written in 1995). Clearly it already had its visionary dimensions they have just become more obvious since. What further marks the piece out is its concise variety of textures and tensions. The elements of its documentary style existed before, but had never been so devastatingly managed.
While the recorded balance downplays the city sounds, the playing has a relentless drive that leaves you reeling. So it does in the virtuoso Eight Lines, a reworking of Reich’s 1979 high-octane Octet which is made more fast and furious, less bouncy than usual. A neat, hard-edged performance of the multi-tracked New York Counterpoint for clarinet, and a dogged but patient one of the early Violin Phase, complete the picture. It brings a surprising perspective. Of all the former minimalists, it suggests, Reich has been the most musically consistent – or to put it another way, developed the least. The expressive enrichment so noticeable in City Life and other recent works comes mostly from extra-musical elements. Otherwise Violin Phase, in its skeletal way, offers much the same fusion of adrenalin, ingenuity and slightly enervating harmony.
While Nonesuch’s ten-disc box remains definitive, with individual works available on single CDs, Ensemble Modern’s survey is very recommendable if it has what you want. Robert Maycock