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Steve REICH (b. 1936)
Drumming (1970/1) [55:09]
Colin Currie Group
Synergy Vocals
rec. 2017, The Warehouse, London

Whichever side one takes with regard to minimalism – finding it as interesting as jogging without the scenery, or mesmeric – one has to acknowledge its influence on music of the last fifty years. Steve Reich is one of the founding fathers of the movement, and this is one of his landmark works. To quote Colin Currie’s booklet note: “Based on a single twelve-note pattern [i.e., a twelve-note rhythm – to avoid confusion], the work is in four parts, which all use the composer’s trademark ‘phasing’ technique to the fore of the musical development. In this process, musicians using identical timbres face off against each other, with one musician selected to accelerate their pattern until a new ‘resulting pattern’ is established, thus considerably enriching the counterpoint and texture of the music.” This gives merely the bare bones, as the actual piece offers a richer experience than suggested here. Part One is scored for four pairs of tuned drums; Part Two for three marimbas and vocals; Part Three requires three glockenspiels, whistling and piccolo; Part Four combines all the forces heard in Parts One, Two and Three. Exuberance is the hallmark of Reich’s output. One could not wish for a more perfect realisation of this quality, or for a more virtuosic display of superhuman accuracy. The joyfulness of Parts Two and Three might be compared to the effect of wedding bells, while the dislocation of the various lines is slightly reminiscent of an ecstatic springtime chorus of birds in a garden (or a jungle), each individual going his or her own way.

The very slim booklet includes a photograph from above of the ensemble’s lay-out. What the alternatives were I cannot say, but this logistical arrangement, and the fine recording, certainly seem to enhance the clarity of this fantastic performance.

For anyone who does not have a deep-seated antipathy towards minimalism, this recording is strongly recommended. Alternatively, for those who are wearied by the constant stream of percussion concertos and other pieces, this might prove to be a breath of fresh air.
Philip Borg-Wheeler



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