Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Steve Reich - Tehilim (1982)

Steve Reich's third album in his ECM trilogy, Tehilim (Psalms, sung here in the original Hebrew) for sopranos and ensemble followed up on its predecessor by digging even more explicitly into the composer's cultural and spiritual heritage.  In an interview (scroll to bottom) with Charles Amirkhanian around the time Tehilim was composed, Reich can be heard discussing Judaism becoming more central to his life and his work, and the studies into Torah chanting that he'd been undertaking would find full flower in this, his first vocal work.

The four-part Tehilim on record was, at under half an hour, the shortest LP that ECM had ever released, and I doubt very much they've since released a briefer one.  Huge kudos then to Reich and Eicher for resisting the temptation to pair Tehilim with another work on the album (perhaps there just wasn't one around), as it doesn't need it - it's utterly gorgeous on its own.  The intricate, flowing counterpoints of Part I lead into the heart-bursting wonder of Part II on the album's first side, with the voices perfectly accompanied by mostly just organ, reeds and percussion.

The marimba and strings-underlaid Part III is the shortest part, apparently written by the movement-shunning Reich via the gentle persuasion of conductor Peter Eötvös, before the original percussion picks up again for Part IV's setting of the last Psalm ("praise him on the..." etc), bursting into a final joyous gallop for the final 'hallelujahs'.  Essential, life-affirming Reich.

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