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Steve Reich: Runner etc

Los Angeles Philharmonic/Susanna Mälkki (Nonesuch)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Steve Reich
Runner; Music for Ensemble and Orchestra
Los Angeles Philharmonic/Susanna Mälkki
Nonesuch 7559791018   36:39 mins

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The fluttering opening to Runner, Steve Reich’s 2016 piece for 19-strong ensemble of winds, percussion, pianos and strings, recalls the first section of 1988’s Different Trains, except that, rather than evocative rumbles and whistles, the music expands into a series of melodic echoes. Flute and violin phrases are layered in a round-like fashion atop a buzzing piano bassline. Separate notes become easier to identify in the subsequent movements as the focus moves from semi-quavers to quavers and crotchets – then following the same path in reverse. The bell pattern is inspired by Ghanaian music and is frequently explored by Reich, who explains his fascination with the ABCBA structure in 2022 book Conversations. Conductor Susanna Mälkki adheres to a constant tempo throughout, allowing the changing rhythmic motifs to drive the music.

The similarly propulsive Music for Ensemble and Orchestra (2018) is a natural partner to Runner – Reich even refers to it as Runner 2 in Conversations – and also follows the ABCBA format, similarly beginning with semi-quavers. The use of double vibraphones and double piano gives the music a distinctive Reichian quality; hearing the cell-division unfold across a broad range of timbres is reminiscent of the sound first heard in Music for 18 Musicians.

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Claire Jackson