Steve Reich WTC 9/11 / Mallet Quartet / Dance Patterns Review

Released 2011.  

BBC Review

WTC 9/11 simply doesn’t have the structural cohesion or magnitude of Different Trains.

Andrew Mellor 2011

However the enterprising people at Nonesuch try to dress it up, the majority of the content on this disc bears no relation to the attacks on the World Trade Center, and some of it was recorded as much as seven years ago. The logistics have clearly proved a headache for those charged with the production of a viable product, and unfortunately it shows.

The main reason being that Steve Reich’s musical commemoration of the September 11 attacks, WTC 9/11, simply isn’t long enough. That might sound like a lazy and irrelevant jibe, but the scale of the piece has a real effect on its emotional and musicological residue. Next to its obvious model Different Trains, the work feels stifled and underdeveloped.

Reich is as eloquent as ever in the nuts-and-bolts music of WTC 9/11. The exploration of the tiny inflections of sampled speech and Reich’s skilful knitting of the voices to one another – of air traffic controllers, emergency service personnel, the composer’s own Manhattan neighbours and a woman who kept vigil over the makeshift morgues – is unfailingly moving.

Even his sampling of the voices, with even more references to the mixing and cutting techniques used in contemporary dance music, entirely bypasses the crass. That, and the Kronos Quartet, taking all three quartet parts, plays with beautiful humanity and effortless nuance. But there’s no getting away from the fact that WTC 9/11 simply doesn’t have the structural cohesion or magnitude of Different Trains – a comparison which Reich fans will inevitably draw.

The fillers – or rather, the works that WTC 9/11 fills for – are pretty much unfaultable in concept and execution. The 2009 Mallet Quartet sounds like vintage Reich: a smooth minimalist sheen on the surface which belies structures that are beguilingly complex, the timbres of dull and bright tuned percussion instruments nourishing each other. Sō Percussion have it nailed, finding both the inner glow and the outer edge, and never letting the tapestry lapse into the flat or routine. Dance Patterns (2002) is less pure; a shape-shifting reflection of bodily choreography that’s notably more angular and would have proved a nice link between the two other works on the disc, rather than placed last. In fact, its very presence on this disc – in a 2004 performance from Reich and his own ensemble – feels like something of an afterthought.

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