“Colin Currie and Steve Reich Live at Fondation Louis Vuitton” is simply an absolutely essential new album

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Percussionist Colin Currie’s third album on his own label focuses on the music of Steve Reich, with a series of live recordings from a Reich weekend at Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris in December 2017. Within two days, Colin Currie Group, joined by Micaela Haslam’s outstanding Synergy Vocals and the composer himself, played three concerts, featuring a forty-year span of Reich’s music.

On the new CD, performances of five Reich pieces, not previously recorded by the group, are included. In addition to music recorded here, the FLV programmes included Quartet (2013), released on Nonesuch, and Drumming (1970-71), released on the inaugural album of Colin Currie Records, and Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ, the only piece in the programme not yet recorded by the group.

The disc opens with Currie and Reich performing Clapping Music (1972), the iconic miniature featuring single rhythmic pattern in a rotating series of unison canons. An obligatory item, especially with the composer involved, the energetic and focused performance serves as perfect opening.

Proverb (1995) is probably the most hauntingly beautiful piece by Reich, with its setting of a single line by Ludwig Wittgenstein for five singers and an instrumental ensemble of two vibraphones and two electric organs. Yet, this is only the second recording of the piece, following the 1996 premiere release on Nonesuch by Theatre of Voices, conducted by Paul Hillier.

Proverb opens with a solo soprano line, which is then developed into a three-part canon, supported by the electric organs. Vibraphones and male voices join, playing interlocking rhythmic patterns and melismas, woven together with the elongated opening melody into a stunning contrapuntal web of ever transforming textures. Following a section based on an inversion of the main melody line, a coda resumes, featuring, at the closing bars, a single soprano.

A performance nothing short of awesome, Currie applies a slightly more relaxed tempo than Hillier, providing the musical lines time and place to really shine out. The eloquent counterpoint is realized in full beauty, with formidable balance between the voices and the instrumental ensemble. The short vibraphone duet in the middle of the piece is a treat.

Premiered by Amadinda Percussion Group in Budapest, and first recorded by So Percussion for Nonesuch, Mallet Quartet (2009) is a wonderful virtuoso piece for two vibraphones and two marimbas. Cast in three movements, following a fast-slow-fast pattern, the fifteen-minute piece is an instantly appealing one. No wonder it has become quite popular among percussion groups and audiences alike.

The outer movements of Mallet Quartet are based on a harmonic ground, provided by the pulsating marimbas. The vibraphones play the enchanting melodic material, both solo and in canon. These upbeat movements are contrasted by the sublime middle movement, the most striking of the three.

In the second movement, the textures are very transparent, with spare melodic lines gently interlocking in slow tempo. Here, the effect is further enhanced by soft dynamics, to a stunning effect. A brilliant performance, luckily preserved on disc.               

Scored for an ensemble of twelve musicians, four winds, six strings, piano and electric bass, Pulse (2015) bears an aura of a cool elegy, unprecedented in Reich’s output, save perhaps the opening movement of The Four Sections. Bearing an aura of utmost sonic beauty, the piece is built upon a constant pulse, provided by piano and electric bass, with slowly shifting harmonies and canonic formations resulting from the string and wind parts.

Gorgeously performed by Colin Currie Group, this is the second recording of Pulse available, following a studio take by International Contemporary Ensemble on Nonesuch.

Closing the circle, the disc ends with another classic, Music for Pieces of Wood (1973) for five pairs of tuned claves. Know to the larger public from The Walking Dead Season 8 trailer soundtrack, the piece is based on various rhythmic figures interlocked into canonic formations. These contrapuntal textures, in turn, give rise to several resulting patterns, musical phrases emanating from the sonic hue.

A gripping fourteen-minute musical journey, Music for Pieces of Wood provides an apt closure for the most enjoyable album of superlative live performances. Well engineered, with balances much improved from those heard on the Arte concert videos from the FLV weekend, this album is an absolutely essential addition to the Reich discography. Not to be missed by fans old or new.

 

Colin Currie Group

Synergy Vocals

Steve Reich

Colin Currie, conductor

 

Steve Reich: Clapping Music (1972)

Steve Reich: Proverb (1995)

Steve Reich: Mallet Quartet (2009)

Steve Reich: Pulse (2015)

Steve Reich: Music for Pieces of Wood (1973)

 

Recorded at Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris (2 & 3 December 2017)

Colin Currie Records CCR0003 (2019)

 

© Jari Kallio

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