Steve Reich: Pulse, Quartet

In 2016, composer Steve Reich celebrated a milestone birthday and to mark the occasion an upward of hundreds of performances of his work were performed at various places around the globe. These performances and celebrations just confirmed the almost unfathomable beauty and timelessness of his oeuvre as they represented 50 years in music. They also confirmed why he is an important part of the contemporary music landscape for many generations and not just in classical music.

Apart from revisiting past achievements from his large oeuvre, during the celebrations named “Reich at 80,” he also premiered a new piece “Pulse” which is now a part of the new album titled Pulse/Quartet that unites two recent compositions of his. “Pulse” dates from 2015 and was partially inspired Daft Punk’s collaboration with the esteemed 70’s producer Giorgio Moroder “Giorgio by Moroder.” That is evident in the electric bass that pulsates behind the melodies and movements. This is not the first time he has been inspired to write based on popular music as his previous outing Radio Rewrite was a five-movement piece that was built on themes from various Radiohead songs. “Pulse” was written for winds (clarinet and flute), strings, piano and an electric bass where the melodies stretch in arching lines. What is astonishing is the variety of sounds Reich has conjured from them. It’s a contemplative piece where every sound brims with life and the instruments seamlessly blend together thus achieving a layering effect.

The pulse has always been the heartbeat of Reich’s music and this is more evident in “Quartet” which is one of the most complex pieces that Reich has ever composed because of the frequent change of keys. It’s written for two pianos and two vibraphones and is performed by the Colin Currie Group. The Quartet is far more optimistic in tone and it reveals the fragmentary nature of Reich’s melodies. The repetitive segments and the pulsating effect which are fundamental for Reich’s music are more subdued in the segments and he uses these segments to achieve create a hypnotic effect. The instruments reiterate certain phrases, pulses, sounds and they always interact with each other. The combination of two pianos and the two vibraphones provides a rhythmic and harmonic foundation over which steady rhythms and intricate melodies mesh and layer together. There is that pulsating vitality that As a result, this gives the impression of a flowing effect where the music that gradually evolves and dissolves. It is tempting to label this music merely as minimalism, but to do so would be slightly misleading because there is so much happening in the midst of the pulse patterns and the layering melodies and sounds. Pulse/Quartet is a brilliant recording by a composer though he’s been around for many years is hitting his stride. The music is profound, enchanting, accessible and engaging.

–Nenad Georgievski,

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Nicolas Vallet: Lute Works

This fine program of works by 17th-century French lutenist/composer/teacher Nicolas Vallet will appeal primarily to lute players and devotees of plucked-string music of the northern European late-Renaissance/early Baroque. Vallet left France for Holland early in his career and spent the rest of his life there as a free-lance musician, member of a lute quartet, and instructor at his own dance school. But most importantly for today’s players and listeners, he also composed and arranged volumes of lute music, including the two-part collection known as Le Secret des Muses (1615 & 1616) and sets of Psalms, and he was careful to include detail regarding performing technique and fingering.

As experts will note, Vallet was a master at using the 10-course lute’s full range, notably employing the bass-register strings to a far greater degree than was common at the time. His contrapuntal skills are especially impressive (an influence attributable to his admiration for his contemporary, Sweelinck), heard more simply in pieces such as the Praeludium (track 17) or Courante (track 18), and more elaborately in Vallet’s setting of a Luther hymn, Onse Vader in Hemelryck. Vallet’s quartet included three expatriate Englishmen, and many of his arrangements are of Elizabethan songs and lute pieces, here represented by All in a Garden Green and Earl of Essex Galliard, among others.

Paul O’Dette unquestionably is one of today’s great lute masters, so it’s more than fitting that he should be bringing to our attention the work of one who was similarly regarded. The technique bears all the marks that listeners familiar with O’Dette’s many past recordings will recognize: exceptionally clean, clear articulation, careful attention to internal lines, tasteful ornamentation, and consummate musicianship that bestows just that extra ounce of listenability even to lesser-known or more routine works. Although the music and performances here won’t blow you away with flashy virtuosity or fiery fingerwork–it’s all fairly low-key–there’s a lot to listen to, as Vallet tends to keep things moving and seems to fill every space in the score with notes. The recording perfectly captures O’Dette’s instrument–a 10-course lute made in 1984 by Ray Nurse after Hans Frei–allowing us to appreciate its full body and warm brilliance without any annoying, close-miking sonic artifacts.

–David Vernier,

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Andrea Gabrieli: Missa Pater Peccavi et al.

…The uncle of the great Giovanni Gabrieli, Andrea Gabrieli is often overshadowed by his nephew, yet he was one of the greatest and most approachable composers of the High Renaissance. Late in his life Andrea composed a Mass for four choirs, but most of his music requires only relatively modest forces; yet it has all the colour, imagination and emotional immediacy that we associate with the best Venetian art of the 16th century. In 1562 Andrea formed a lasting friendship with Lassus while visiting Germany, and the music of Lassus can be seen to be an important influence on his own.

Andrea seemed reluctant to publish his work, and consequently much of his music cannot be precisely dated (his instrumental music was not printed until after his death). However, the music on the present disc is remarkably consistent in style, quality and personality, even if it was published over a period of 40 years. The programme presented here is not planned as a liturgical reconstruction, though the movements of the Mass have been separated by instrumental items. Overall, the mood moves from sorrow and penitence to reconciliation and joy.

The Missa Pater peccavi is one of three masses for six voices printed in 1572…”

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