MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra / Kristjan Järvi STEVE REICH Duet

The music of Steve Reich has been heard in various venues, including electronic music dance clubs, but the full symphony orchestra treatment has been rare. That is changing, however, with the tenure of Kristjan Järvi as chief conductor of the Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra, and the result in that musically conservative, German city is this major-label double album of Reich's music, in many respects a first. Järvi's enthusiasm for the project is palpable here, most obviously in the live performance of the early Reich standard Clapping Music, which he and the composer perform together to the approval of the crowd. But to put together two CDs worth of standard orchestral music by Reich takes a little bit of doing. The first CD of the set is perhaps the more successful, containing not only Clapping Music, but two of Reich's earlier forays into orchestral repertoire, the Duet for two solo violins and string orchestra (written for Yehudi Menuhin) and The Four Sections, a sort of minimalist counterpart to Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. The "four sections" are the strings (movement 1), the percussion (movement 2), and the winds and brass (movement 3), with everyone coming together for the finale. This little work deserves the wider exposure it gets here, for it offers a unique window onto Reich's thinking on timbre in a fun, accessible way. The second CD features two works originally written for voices and small ensemble, the Daniel Variations (in memory of the murdered Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl) and You Are (a group of four settings of Hasidic aphorisms), reworked for orchestra. These are both successful examples of Reich's later style, in which Jewish themes are common, but it's not clear what the orchestra adds; in You Are, especially, the balance with the voices seems thrown off. Nevertheless, this is a major breakthrough for the octogenarian Reich, in a musically hallowed city far from his American homeland, in a place where he must find it uniquely satisfying to score a triumph. (James Manheim)

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