Steve REICH (b. 1936)
Mallet Quartet (2009) [14:58]
Sextet (1986) [28:23]
Nagoya Marimbas (1996) [4:48]
Music for Pieces of Wood (1973) [14:20]
Third Coast Percussion
rec. 15-19 December 2014, University of Notre Dame's DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.
CEDILLE RECORDS CDR90000161 [62:28]

Reich has been a presence for me from my earliest days (1970s) of listening to Radio 3. Clapping Music snagged my attention (try You-Tube) without turning me into anything more than interested. Then one of the tapes I was sent by either Charles Pizer or Mark Lehman in the early 1980s included Reich's Variations. That was a turning point, coming at about the same time I began subscribing to Fanfare magazine with its at times laid-back West Coast tastes. That version of Variations was played by the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Eötvös. The work's slow, terraced transformations, rapid pulse and insistently beguiling material held the attention. It linked with my appetite for music with melodic allure and catchy rhythmic bait. Reich's Gamelan Music and Music for 18 Musicians consolidated the composer's position in my musical tastes. Last summer I heard a Late Night Reich Prom in which the rapturously voluptuous Desert Music was conducted by Peter Hill at the Royal Albert Hall. My first live Reich.

Now along comes this disc in Reich's eightieth birthday year with four works scattered across four decades. It's an encouraging chance to catch up. All the usual attractions are on show. The most succulent of these is Mallet Quartet proving that minimalism can offer juice as well as a mind-tingling rhythmic lucidity. There are surprises too - even disappointments although not in the execution by these six players - including two pianists in Sextet. The gloomy metallic thudding bass-emphatic realms of the central three movements of Sextet are not where I would start anyone new to Reich; for that the large-scale works Desert Music and Variations should not be missed. The outer movements (of five) of Sextet offer contrasting recompense with some ruthless piano figuration alongside the marimbas and vibraphones. Nagoya Marimbas returns us to that open oxygen-rich ringing percussion sound. Here - and in the drier five-movement Music for Pieces of Wood - we are again captivated by Third Coast Percussion's attentive ears, wrists and musculature. That essential dynamic tickle, thud and rhythmic absorption is there and the audio-engineers deserve as much praise as the four musicians of Third Coast Percussion and the two pianists in Sextet: David Friend and Oliver Hagen.

Cedille present the disc stylishly, with decent annotation, in a digipack the design of which is a meet companion to the music.

Rob Barnett

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