Album Remarks & Appraisals:
LSO Live explore the music of America's most influential living composer with performances of three of his most iconic works: Sextet, Clapping Music and Music for Pieces of Wood. Employing Reich's universally recognizable sound-world, Sextet uses hypnotic repetitions of a sequence of harmonies, which gradually overlap and interweave, resulting in a complex yet utterly compelling musical landscape. Introducing more dissonance and aggressive rhythms than previous compositions, the relationship of the five movements is that of an arch form, A-B-C-B-A. Changes of tempo are made abruptly at the beginning of new movements by metric modulation and sections are also organized harmonically with a chord cycle for the first and fifth. Reich says of the work - 'The ambiguity here is between which is melody and which is accompaniment. In music that uses a great deal of repetition, I believe it is precisely these kinds of ambiguity that give vitality and life'. Composed in 1972, Clapping Music strips back to the bare essentials, taking traditional African rhythms as its starting point. Conceived from a desire to compose music 'that would need no instrument beyond the human body' it is perhaps the most elemental example of phasing in the composer's catalogue. The whole work consists of a single rhythmic cell which becomes staggered as the work progresses, creating an entrancing and hypnotic effect. Having previously performed the work with the composer, Neil Percy delivers an inspired performance alongside his LSO Co-Principal, Sam Walton. Music for Pieces of Wood takes this concept a step further, adding pitches, in the form of claves tuned A, B, C#, D# and D# an octave above. The claves are chosen for their resonant timbre and the piece is one of the loudest the composer has written, despite using no amplification whatsoever. Neil Percy, LSO Principal Percussionist and Ensemble Director, says of his relationship with these pieces and the composer - 'The thing I enjoy most about playing the music of Steve Reich is its diversity, its complexity, its challenging nature... We've played so many pieces of Steve's over the years with him being present, so it's got a very personal set of challenges that I find completely irresistible. That's why, on this particular project for LSO Live, we tried to put together a program that reflected all of the pieces that the group themselves really like to play.'
Classical Ear, 15th June 2016
The beauty of the LSO Percussion Ensemble's performance is in its delicate, almost tactile sound, the various textures - some sensual, others more metallic - kept crystal clear, the music's constant rhythmic course occasionally shifting, crab-like, off centre.
Audio Mixer: Neil Hutchinson.
Liner Note Authors: Benjamin Picard; Neil Percy.
Recording information: LSO St. Luke's, London (10/30/2015).
Editor: Neil Hutchinson.
Contents aside, this release by the London Symphony Orchestra's LSO Live series is noteworthy for using the live-recording format intelligently: it offers a kind of concert that wouldn't really work in a studio recording. Short at less than 45 minutes, the album reproduces a rush hour concert directed at commuters; you could play these three pieces in the studio, but the light, spontaneous live energy of the present recording would be hard to reproduce. The opening Clapping Music is the best-known work here; sample it if you need convincing that the normally formally clad members of the LSO Percussion Ensemble are as comfortable with the work as any musicians from San Francisco or lower Manhattan. An added attraction here is a pair of less commonly heard Reich works: the Music for Pieces of Wood, which expands upon the cyclical ideas so concisely stated in Clapping Music, and the more expansive Sextet, a work from the early period of Reich's re-engagement with tonality. The sound, from the LSO St. Luke's church, is clear, and the venue is more suited to non-sacred music than many other churches are. A fun item that could serve to represent Reich in any collection. ~ James Manheim