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Album review

Steve Reich, ‘Music for 18 Musicians’


Ensemble Signal/Brad Lubman

(Harmonia Mundi)

Two excellent recordings of Steve Reich’s epoch-making “Music for 18 Musicians” exist already: one by Steve Reich and Musicians on Nonesuch, another by the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble on Innova. But this new version, by the New York-based Ensemble Signal, bests them both. While the earlier recordings seemed content to let Reich’s vast additive processes unfold in a kind of hazy shimmer, Ensemble Signal and its music director, Brad Lubman, bring the music’s sounds, textures, and shapes into amazingly sharp focus. Listen to Section 2 and marvel at the way the intensity mounts when the clarinets come in, or as the marimba melodies are gradually extended. That attention to detail does more than simply make the score clear; it gives each section, and the piece as a whole, a strong architectural profile not always evident until now.


Most important, it makes listening to “Music for 18 Musicians” an emotionally compelling experience in a manner that eluded earlier versions. Perhaps we needed to get this far away from the creation of the piece — it is nearing its 40th birthday — for a group like Ensemble Signal to see it this way: not as an exotic work in need of explanation or apology, but as a vital, dramatic entry in the 20th-century canon. Whatever the reason, this recording does this wonderful piece justice in a bracing new way.


David Weininger can be reached at
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