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Double Sextet / 2x5

4 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Composer: Steve Reich
  • Audio CD (13 Sept. 2010)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • ASIN: B003RXXZT0
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 32,566 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Digital Booklet: Double Sextet/2x5
Digital Booklet: Double Sextet/2x5
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Product Description

Product Description

double sextet/2x5steve reich (artist) | format: audio cd samples song title time price 1. i. fast 8:39 (performed by eighth blackbird)2. ii. slow 6:43 (performed by eighth blackbird)4. i. fast 10:12 (performed by bang on a can)5. ii. slow 3:12 (performed by bang on a can)6. iii. fast 7:08 (performed by bang on a can)

BBC Review

Of all the original minimalists none is more fascinated by the propelling properties of rhythm as New Yorker Steve Reich. His career has been a lifelong study of tempo and timing – themes located at the very heart of these two arrangements, albeit with varying degrees of success.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet is performed here by contemporary music unit eighth blackbird, who also commissioned the piece. For this composition Reich employs his beloved phasing techniques to generate a procession of dramatic syncopations, engineering a face-off between two duplicate chamber groups, each comprising of flute, clarinet, vibraphone, piano, violin and cello. As the pace of the playing shifts so too does the mood, alternating from anticipatory to frenetic as, all the while, a complex series of sub-melodies vie for attention. Identical instruments spar and interlock, creating the kind of patterns that so captivated Morton Feldman. Beautifully poised throughout, Double Sextet stands as arguably one of Reich’s finest works.

Unfortunately, 2x5 (scored, naturally, for two sets of five musicians) doesn’t quite match up. Reich’s attempt to incorporate rockist strategies and instrumentation (four electric guitars, two pianos, two bass guitars and a couple of drum kits), were clearly determining factors in his selection of the multi-faceted Bang on a Can as his interpreting ensemble, but it’s a ploy that flounders in the face of subtlety, undermining the incremental shifts that buttress Reich’s best moments.

But neither could 2x5 ever be mistaken for a blast of devil-horned bombast. Indeed, what’s blindingly apparent from the get go is the hollowness situated at this music’s core, abandoning the listener to a tinny, cheap dinner party approximation of Rhys Chatham’s kinetic scores for massed electric guitars. Where’s the danger, where’s the sweat? Where, for that matter, is the rock? There’s the occasional six-string filigree that recalls Chatham’s acclaimed Guitar Trio or even Sonic Youth at their most statesmanlike, but for the most part it’s all rather limp. Neither one thing nor the other, 2x5 also suffers from being cast in the shadow of preceding glories.

--Spencer Grady

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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
Double Sextet deservedly won Steve Reich a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 and it's superbly served by this premier recording by Eighth Blackbird, for whom it was commissioned. Reich's late style is at its best here - freer, more energetic and warmer than almost any piece of his in the last ten years, and the interplay of the two sextet parts (both recorded by 8bb) is a delight to bring a smile to any listener's face. It's as joyous as the Variations for Vibes, Pianos and Strings (my other candidate for Reich's best piece of the last decade) and as full-throated as You Are Variations but without that work's revisiting of former glories. This is all new. A really fantastic piece and one that we should all hope and trust will enter repertoire for many years to come.

Interestingly the recording heard by the Pulitzer jury was from a fully-live performance in which Eighth Blackbird partnered with the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, rather than playing against a recorded version of themselves. For a while after the announcement of Reich's Pulitzer win the full performance was available online via Reich's publisher, Boosey & Hawkes and I'd urge anyone who gets the chance to give it a listen. It's an instructive companion to this studio version; the sheer energy of the live playing and the obvious joy the two sextets took in each other comes out of your speakers like a fresh, stiff breeze and offers a subtly different, slightly more swinging, take on the piece. Definitely a candidate for its own release, if only as a download, should any of the parties involved be so willing.

The second piece on this release, 2x5, sadly seems fated to achieve only footnote status in Reich's career.
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It gets 5 stars from me because I love Steve Reich's music and I enjoyed both pieces in equal measure.

All the music is very recognisable as Steve Reich from the last 10 years or so. I would say both pieces are a welcome return to an "easy on the ears" Reichian style. For me though the 2 x 5 piece is the easier to listen to probably because of the "rock band" instrumentation which suits the music well. Indeed 2 x5 is the natural successor to the beautiful Electronic Counterpoint from 1987, they would sit well together in performance (I imagine Bang on a Can have done exactly this).

The actual music in 2 x 5 doesn't appear as complex as Double Sextet although I don't know if that's the instrumentation or a deliberate ploy from Reich to make it more accessible. Certainly Double Sextet will have me listening far more to really grasp the piece and I imagine repeated listening will further my appreciation of it whereas 2 x 5 can be enjoyed immediately.

Some of the nuances of both pieces are probably lost on the listener because the pieces must offer so much more interest in a live setting. Both pieces involve one group of musicians playing along to another set of musicians, either live or recorded, and yet in a CD recording this is more difficult to hear than in a live setting, when you can watch the process unfold. To aid this process there is a left/right balance on the mix, but you have to focus carefully to work out which sound is coming from which set of musians. I suppose though that the whole point of this compositional method is to stike a balance between experiencing the groups together and also separately as they mimic, repeat, augment and enhance their contributions. Reich here is playing tricks on your mind again, it is great fun to listen to and try to work it out, and also great fun just to chill out and enjoy the sound as a whole. Typically you can thoroughly enjoy the music on both levels.
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Format: Audio CD
I think it is understandable that some listeners have complained about Reich's tendency to blatantly repeat ideas these days, though I think 'Double Sextet' is still a fine piece of music. It is snappy, exciting, emotional, euphoric even - a perfect rendition of the kind of ideas Reich has been exploring for a number of years now, but with slightly more surprising harmonic twists and turns than usual.

'2x5' as a composition is a little less successful to my ears, though the new sonics are a breath of fresh air (even if the musical ideas remain entirely similar.)

My main issue with this disc is the recording quality. Has nobody else noticed it? Is it just me? I heard excerpts from 'Double Sextet' back in 2007, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on a properly recorded disc of it. But from the second movement onwards, the piano sounds distorted. It's especially noticeable on headphones, and I doubt it's a deliberate effect - it sounds like clipping, and as far as I can tell no other instrument has been affected in the same way. I'm surprised this oversight has occurred, especially after the long wait, and I'm surprised nobody else seems bothered by it. The recording quality of '2x5' is also rather strange, though thankfully it isn't plagued by any unintentional distortion or clipping. It just sounds rather dry and weirdly mixed, and the panning is all over the shop.

Have another listen to the 'Slow' movement of 'Double Sextet' - when the piano notes hit, there is clearly some sort of distortion or clipping going on. Perhaps it is deliberate, or perhaps only my disc has the issue affecting a single instrument. But I am not being picky for the sake of it - it does greatly disturb how the piece comes across.
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