STEVE REICH: Music for 18 Musicians (Harmonia Mundi)
In the fine booklet essay accompanying this elegant release, new-music promoter Ashley Capps recalls turning a corner in New York’s Soho neighborhood in 1977 and hearing “the music floating down the street — a richly textured pulsating rhythm with a beautiful, intricate, repeating melody dancing lightly above it,” a sound that left him feeling “suddenly and remarkably lucid, in a state of intense hyper-awareness.” That hits it on the head, and it explains why Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, the piece Capps heard that day, became an instant hit and ultimately a classic. Minimalism was just then cutting its shimmering path through a turgid landscape overgrown with dutiful serialism, and of the minimalists who were clearing the way, Reich stood out as particularly refined in his buoyancy. Conductor Brad Lubman, a Reich aficionado for years, here oversees the Ensemble Signal in a reading whose close-up acoustic lends such clarity of lines that you might imagine you are seated within the ensemble. The work’s 14 sections unroll seamlessly, a jolt arriving midway through, in Section VIII, with a sizzle of maracas and the entry of four perfectly tuned, wordless singers. This is not a work to ingest piecemeal. Commit a full hour to it, turn off your cell phone, and send your ears to this sonic spa to simply go with the pulsating flow.
— James M. Keller