Steve Reich – YOU ARE (VARIATIONS)

Nonesuch

In little more than 38 minutes we get two recent compositions by one of the big daddies of the M-word. You are, brilliantly performed by Los Angeles Master Chorale conducted by Grant Gershon, is a four-movement work setting short texts selected and adapted by Reich from the Talmud, the Psalms and the writings of Wittgenstein. According to the composer, he needed six months just to choose the texts, trying them out in a multitude of combinations while keeping their particular rhythm and meaning at the forefront of his mind to determine the overall development of the piece. What soon becomes evident in this work is the more varied harmonic palette; there are welcome return visits to well-known territory (frequent echoes of The Desert Music and Tehillim) but also more dissonant excursions, particularly the end of “You are wherever your thoughts are”, whose piano parts suggest a monstrous cross between McCoy Tyner and Christian Vander, and in the fourth movement “Say little and do much”, in which too many skipping changes result in a slight loss of focus. Even so, the composition as a whole is strong, and may even become a Reich classic. On the contrary, the final Cello Counterpoint is a difficult listen, while being just as impressive on a technical level. Cellist Maya Beiser plays each one of the eight lines of the score, an intricate contrapuntal interconnection characterized by a hurried drive which – particularly at the beginning – recalls some of Fred Frith’s string quartets. Reich’s been getting involved with denser and more variegated structures lately, and not surprisingly believes this piece to be the hardest among his “counterpoint” creations to date.

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