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Reich: Tehillim / The Desert Music

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Audio CD, September 10, 2002
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Editorial Reviews

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Reich's music moves along in a stately, orderly, almost mathematical way, so one wouldn't expect a wide variety of interpretive styles in different performances. Still, this recording of Tehillim, at least the third issued so far, seems sharper in focus and rhythm than the premiere ECM recording, the only one to include the composer's participation. The Desert Music sounds somewhat different here than in the premiere Nonesuch recording by Michael Tilson Thomas with the Brooklyn Philharmonic and Chorus, the ensembles it was written for. This "revised chamber version" by the composer from 2001 uses smaller forces, losing something in grandeur while gaining rhythmic clarity. It's becoming obvious that Reich's music will survive his own performing career and lifetime, and here is an example of a disc with no performing ties to the composer which is still extremely satisfying. It is also very well-recorded and generously programmed, since the premiere recordings of the two works took up a disc each. Cantaloupe Music provides sung texts and lists of the performers but not a word of program notes, a liability to this otherwise admirable release. --Leslie Gerber

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Product Details

  • Performer: Ossia
  • Conductor: Alan Pierson
  • Audio CD (September 10, 2002)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Cantaloupe
  • ASIN: B00006H6B5
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,513 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By peter-from-la on February 12, 2003
Format: Audio CD
I've loved this music since it first appeared, back in the early '80s, and I second the praise that others have delivered about this recording. It has a clarity and immediacy missing from previous outings (the musicians were probably recorded in the multi-miked "pop" style rather than the style usually adopted for "classical" musicians). The percussion in Tehillim is snap-crackle-pop sharp, allowing the ear to carefully distinguish the sounds of the various percussion instruments, in comparison to the muddled sound of the Schoenberg Ensemble version. These percussionists have this music in their blood. They are tremendously well-rehearsed, and their youthful stamina pays off in the momentum they maintain throughout the performances. An extra string quartet in Tehillim allows melodies and sustained chords to assume more prominence.
Meanwhile, the singers' voices in The Desert Music are more individually characterized than before, allowing you to hear the text more clearly in voices that are dramatically free of any vibrato whatsoever, giving the singing a pure but momentous sound. I agree that the larger body of strings used in MTT's version is missed in the opening of the last movement, but otherwise I prefer the fiddlers in this version for their cracker jack playing. Quicker tempos accentuate the exuberance of Reich's syncopations. (This performance shaves 5 minutes off MTT's version.)
If I could only have one version of these pieces this would be the one I would buy. Actually, this recording is a better deal than what is currently available: The Desert Music on Nonesuch is unaccompanied by a second work, a situation which is also true of Tehillim on ECM.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Robin Hamlyn on November 30, 2002
Format: Audio CD
Although entirely persuaded by the stimulating customer reviews of this magical disc, I'm inclined to regard it as a companion to, rather than an "improvement" on, Tilson-Thomas's recording of "The Desert Music". Certainly, Pierson's daring tempos and the crystal-clear articulation of his remarkable young players make for a radically more detailed sound-frame (although I wondered whether the voices were perhaps too forwardly placed). The "chamber" reduction has a wonderful intimacy and it is virtually impossible to find fault with such a perceptive, intellectually cogent performance.
And yet I do miss some of the craggy grandeur of Tilson-Thomas's reading. Under his direction, the final (fast) section seems to be imbued with a curious, unearthly luminosity. There is also a ripeness of articulation (particularly in the brass at key moments) not found in the brighter, more analytical new recording.
So, if we can happily oscillate between Klemperer and Eliot-Gardiner in Beethoven (well, I can, but I drink a lot), why can't we do the same with Tilson-Thomas and Pierson in Reich?
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By David Gottner on December 2, 2002
Format: Audio CD
Here we have the two best works (IMO) that Steve Reich has composed performed with a fresh interpretation.
I still prefer the premier recording of Tehillim that was released on the ECM label. This version is improved with greater transparency, a faster tempo, crisp recording and a tighter performance overall. However there is just something missing here in that I find the ECM performance just to be more exciting overall. The vocalists on the ECM recording convey more passion in my opinion. Still this is a fine re-interpretation of Tehillim.
The new recording of the Desert Music is much improved over the original recording done by Michael Tilson Thomas. Not that MTT's recording is bad mind you - quite the opposite. I was in love with the Desert Music, believing that it was (is) Reich's best work, and that was the MTT original recording that I was in love with. However, this new interpretation just makes a great work even better. The tempo is much faster which enhances the impact of the work and just seems to fit the music better than the more leisurely pace set by MTT. Also the smaller forces involved bring more clarity to the score.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey J.Park VINE VOICE on September 29, 2006
Format: Audio CD
This album brings together two works written by American minimalist composer Steve Reich in the early 1980's including Tehillim (1981) and The Desert Music (1984). As they appear on this album, Tehillim was performed by the ensemble Ossia, while The Desert Music was performed by Alarm will Sound and Ossia. Both pieces were recorded sometime around 1999-2002 and were directed by Alan Pierson. In general, this is fantastic minimalism and I especially appreciate its austere, acoustic qualities.

The musicians on this album are far too numerous to mention individually, but the dominant instruments include the human voice, mallet instruments, and string bass (mostly bowed parts), in addition to a host of woodwinds, strings, brass, and keyboards (even though a prog rock fan, I have to admit that the absence of electric instruments is a refreshing change of pace). Steve's pieces require a great deal of technical ability, and there are some dazzlingly intricate group vocal parts on Telhillim, although the performances throughout are top shelf.

Tehillim itself is written in four movements principally for voice (high soprano, lyric sopranos, and an alto) although other instruments such as the string bass and various percussion instruments are featured. The piece consists largely of ostinato networks performed by the singers; is extremely long (30'51"); and possesses a subtle rhythmic element. The Desert Music (43'47") is somewhat different and is presented in (at least I think so) an arch form (A-B-C-B-A). The seven movements are pretty much differentiated by tempo.
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