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World Music CD Reviews New Age & Avant Garde

STEVE REICH

By BEN FRANDZEL
Published April 7, 2006

Tehillim: Desert Music
Cantaloupe

In the early ’80s, composer Steve Reich began to pursue the difficult task of setting texts to his style of pulsing rhythms and slowly evolving harmonies, producing these beautiful and challenging works. Tehillim, a setting of Hebrew psalms for four women’s voices and a percussion-heavy chamber ensemble, receives a superb reading from Ossia, the new-music group of the Eastman School of Music. Under the sure direction of young conductor Alan Pierson, Reich’s complex tapestry of voices, pulsing percussion and instrumental lines evokes the search for ecstasy embodied in the texts. With The Desert Music, Reich created a grand, sweeping setting of William Carlos Williams’ poetry. Pierson and Ossia are here joined by new-music specialists Alarm Will Sound, and again deliver a dramatic, committed performance. This is a version for chamber orchestra and a smaller vocal group that Reich arranged from original work for large chorus and orchestra. Some of the grandeur is lost, but the text is more easily understood, and the smaller instrumental group reveals some of the jazz influence Reich speaks of.  Altogether, this is among the finest of the many Reich recordings available.