Top positive review
9 people found this helpful
Split down the middle
on 15 September 2010
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. It's certainly by no means up there with the best of his compositions but the chief problem, to my mind, is the choice of instrumentation. Electric guitars and basses backed by rock drums just don't seem to fit his style, at least on the evidence here and especially in this noodling piece. Each has appeared before in Reich - drums in Three Tales and guitars in Electric Counterpoint - to better effect, but here the sound is thin and lacklustre and the energy levels sedate. I confess the heart sinks a little each time the rather lifeless percussion kicks in, not something I ever thought could be said about a Steve Reich piece. The third section, in which we at least get some pleasing interlocked melodies and riffs, offers the best listening - though even there I'd rather have heard acoustic than electric guitars.
One side note: My copy was supplied not in a jewel case but in a very basic cardboard cover with the disc itself slid into a pocket. That might be something you'd accept for a CD single but for a major, Pulitzer Prize-winning, full-price release from one of the stars of contemporary music it's pretty shoddy.
So good is Double Sextet, however, that the disappointments of 2x5 and the packaging can only really rob the disc of a single star. Know what you're getting but don't under any circumstances miss out on a triumphant addition to Reich's canon.