Recording of the Week: Third Coast Percussion, Steve Reich

TCP Steve Reich CD size

Third Coast Percussion: Steve Reich

Mallet Quartet; Sextet, Nagoya Marimbas, Music for Pieces of Wood

New recordings of the music of Steve Reich are easy to recommend: he’s arguably the most important composer of the last fifty years, and because he’s a contemporary, every new release adds to our understanding of his work. That is as true for poorly played recordings and of lesser compositions; the bad stuff sets the good stuff into greater relief.

There is nothing bad on this recording in terms of either the writing or the playing, it is all very good. The most recent work is the Mallet Quartet, from 2009 (originally released on a Nonesuch disc in 2011 along with WTC 9/11 and Dance Patterns). This is one of Reichs’ finest recent works—propulsive, and mixing his developing ideas about harmony and form with this exceptional ear for integrated patterns and syncopation. Third Coast Percussion’s performance is excellent, it swings and has a beautiful sonority. This is also one of the best engineered recordings I’ve heard in years—Dan Nichols set it down at Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center—with a lush, clear presence.

The big piece on here is the Sextet, now thirty years old, in a performance with pianists David Friend and Oliver Hagen that purrs along like a Porsche. The disc is filled out withNagoya Marimbas and Music for Pieces of Wood, the first lovely and the second bracing.

In the liner notes, the group points out that they are among the second, or even third, generation of musicians to play this music. The recording affirms how well this great body of work, and its unique demands, has been assimilated in the current (and future) such generations.

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