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Reich: Triple Quartet, Music for a Large Ensemble, Electric Guitar Phase

4.2 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Over a decade after their last collaboration - which produced the 150,000-selling Grammy winner "Different Trains" - Steve Reich and Kronos deliver a world premiere recording which features an overdubbed, three-layered performance by the quartet in a work whose expressive energy marks a high point in the composer's compositional style. With a spirit that mirrors its primary source of inspiration - the last movement of Bartok's Fourth Quartet - the TRIPLE QUARTET has met with critical praise in Kronos' concert performances since its composition in 1999. ELECTRIC GUITAR PHASE is a new version of Violin Phase for four overdubbed electric guitars made by the guitarist Dominic Frasco, and takes the original music to a new zone of swirling hypnosis. MUSIC FOR LARGE ENSEMBLE is performed here by young conductor Alan Pierson directing the ensembles Ossia (from the Eastman School) and Alarm Will Sound in a revised edition of the piece with added violins. TOYKO/VERMONT COUNTERPOINT for midi-marimbas (KAT controllers) is a new version of Vermont Counterpoint, originally for winds. Mika Yoshida, a Japanese percussionist, made the arrangement and performs all the parts: A radically different take on the source, and one with a dazzling quasi-electronica feel, as well as a sense of humor. In all, this new Reich assortment - a major new work partnered with fresh versions of other pieces - is a vivid portrait of the artist's work now, as well as a keen reminder of how current his earlier music continues to feel, decades after its composition.
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Product Details

  • Conductor: Alan Pierson
  • Composer: Steve Reich
  • Audio CD (October 16, 2001)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • ASIN: B00005NSQT
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #232,254 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
The music on this "new" Steve Reich release falls into two distinct categories:
ACTUAL NEW MATERIAL (15 minutes)
"Triple Quartet": A slight improvement over other recent ventures ("The Cave," "City Life"), however quite grating to listen to... a lack of critical rhythmic interest with static mildly dissonant harmonic content combines for an unrewarding listen that seems to go on for longer than the 14 minutes it actually lasts. A major disappointment compared to "Different Trains," the previous Kronos collaboration.
RECYCLED FILLER MATERIAL (40 minutes)
1. "Electric Guitar Phase": When this same piece is heard as "Violin Phase" (on the 1980 ECM recording) it's long and somewhat tedious yet rewarding upon further listening with an exciting virtuoso feel that a live violinist brings to the table. As performed on overdubbed electric guitars, it is devoid of humanity and fire, losing all hope of holding the listeners attention for the duration. Why this piece seemed worth recording on electric guitar is beyond me. Ugh.
2. "Music for a Large Ensemble": This arrangement/performance is a little cleaner and more transparent than its ECM cousin (that same record that had "Violin Phase" on it. Hmmm.) You can hear some details here that weren't as apparent on the older recording. However, despite the shiny finish, this performance seems to lack the fresh energy and attack heard on the ECM version. So an interesting listen for the overly Reich-obsessed, but nothing revelatory.
3. "Tokyo/Vermont Counterpoint": Completely inferior to the version for flutes as recorded by Ransom Wilson.
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Format: Audio CD
Last year I purchased the 'complete' Steve Reich works on Nonesuch and was confused as to the missing works. This, save for 'phase patterns' and 'pendullum music', completes it.

Electric guitar phase is amazing. I'd only heard its origional version for violin a few times and the middle and ending were too muddy. The treble and subtle harmonic overtones on the guitar are much better. The best thing about the phasing technique though is that rush you get everytime a new phase locks in. Wow!
I agree with the reviewer below who noticed that the 'Large Ensemble' was not as tight as they could be. The sheer syncopation written into this piece demands aboslute precision and I came away feeling that it hadn't been achieved here. In contrast, I could have done with a less tight vermont counterpoint. THe beauty of all Reich's couterpoint works have been that they allow the ear to 'pick' between following the whole or an individual line. I found this impossible to do here.
THe anchor of the CD (Triple Quartet) was brilliant. I wish that the two other versions (orchestral string section and three quartets live) could've been on the CD as well. In closing the first two peices are the meat and potatoes. The last two peices despite in my opinion their performance flaws, serve as a worthy soup and salad.
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Format: Audio CD
This is one of those rare recordings where I have no complaints...from the quality of the music to the quality of the performances to the quality of the packaging...this is the kind of thing that the classical music industry should be looking to if it hopes to revive it's dreadful record sales...
Instead of going in order of the tracks on the disc, let me go in order of the date of composition of each piece.
Electric Guitar Phase, though new in this orchestration, is of course 1967's Violin Phase reborn...This might be Reich's most static piece for tradional instruments (that is, besides early pieces for tape or "pendulum music")...For me, the original version of this piece never quite worked - the articulations possible on violin kept it from really "locking in"...This version has solved that problem completely...
The sharp attack on each note or dyad when done on electric guitars makes every new pattern clearer than any violinist could hope for...it's truly a revelation to hear this piece work so well. I always thought "piano phase" to be the best of Reich's phase pieces...I was wrong. This new recording should make listeners really sit up and take note - classical music ain't what it used to be, and thank G-d...one of our greatest composer's best pieces turns out to be for a bunch of electric guitars!
The next work (chronologically) is "Large Ensemble"...compared to the old ECM recording, I'm not convinced that this ensemble is playing as tightly as this piece needs them to...but at the same time, the sound quality is of course much better and warmer than the old recording. This one you can judge for yourself. I haven't totally made up my mind one way or another on this one...
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Format: Audio CD
The first piece on this disc--the Triple Quartet--may be startling to listeners familiar with Steve Reich's music. A sort of "polychoral" work for three quartets (or, as in this case, a single quartet accompanied by recordings of itself), it sounds a lot less like `Music for Eighteen Musicians' than it sounds like, well, the soundtrack to `Psycho'. Reich has masterfully extended his pulsing, mathematical musical style to incorporate rich, expressionistic harmonies and melodies. You heard that right, I said "melodies"--this piece is actually quite lyrical at times, though it never fully escapes a slightly mechanical quality.
The next piece, on the other hand, may be one of the most unlistenably strident pieces Reich has ever written. It's 'Electric Guitar Phase,' a new adaptation of his `Violin Phase' (1967) performed on distorted electric guitar. Fans of Reich's phase-music know that its glacially slow development can be truly exhilirating, and will take immediately to the fresh spin this new instrumentation puts on a classic piece; those less familiar should consider themselves warned--it can also, depending on the listener, be EXCRUCIATING. (Me? Well, I love it.)
The last two pieces, originally composed within a few years of each other, fall somewhere between the first two both chronologically and stylistically--much easier on the ears than Electric Guitar Phase, but also more recognizably "minimalistic" than the Triple Quartet. `Music for Large Ensemble' is cerebral and pleasant, and `Tokyo/Vermont Counterpoint' (an adaptation of `Vermont Counterpoint' from flutes to electronic percussion) is charmingly silly and just as smart. Nothing really shocking there, but a handsome end to a very interesting set of recordings.
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