Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Steve Reich - Octet/Music for a Large Ensemble/Violin Phase (rel. 1980)

Steve Reich in 1980 was midway through his ECM tenure, and building on the success of his first stone-cold masterpiece, Music For 18 Musicians.  Its follow-up was this programme of three shorter works, each just over 15 minutes.  One of these wasn't new - Violin Phase was released on the first ever LP of Reich's music in 1968, performed by Paul Zukofsky.  For the 1980 recording by Shem Guibbory, this progressive web of interlocking layers of violin/pre-recorded violin on tape gets a welcome rev-up to the tempo, making the criss-crossing patterns much more effective and shortening it by 8 minutes compared to Zukofsky's recording.

The two freshly-minted works show how far Reich had refined his style since Music For Mallet Instruments, Voices And Organ.  Music For A Large Ensemble does what it says on the tin, with 30 musicians filling out his lushest orchestral work so far, as melody lines gradually increase in complexity during each of the work's four sections.

Octet, again as its name suggests, slims down the ensemble, and for me is the highlight of the album.  From the early 80s onwards, Reich's Jewish identity and cultural heritage would strongly inform his work; this began in earnest with a visit to Jerusalem in 1977 to study cantillation (chanting) of the Hebrew scriptures.  The  first influence of this showed up in Octet and its long melodic lines on flute and piccolo, which give the piece its wonderful flowing energy.  I wonder if this work was the one that Reich was (rightfully) most proud of on this release - it comes first in the album title, and I'm guessing was programmed last in the running order just to be a best-fit for the sequencing of the LP.

P.S. If anyone wants to pick up all of Reich's ECM recordings in one handy box, they're being reissued in exactly that way in a few weeks!

Octet/Music for a Large Ensemble/Violin Phase


  1. Thank you a lot for these S.Reich albums!!

  2. thanks a million.

  3. Is there any chance you could re-up this one? Really digging the Steve Reich catalog.