A Classic and a Premiere in an Evening of Reich

10.30.14
Colin Currie
The New York Times

An Evening of Steve Reich at Zankel Hall 

By Zachary Woolfe  

In 1971, Steve Reich finished “Drumming” and then composed “Clapping Music,” which is like building the Taj Mahal and following it with a dollhouse.

“Clapping Music,” a work for two pairs of hands whose rhythms start in sync and move, intriguingly, out of it, is just three or four minutes long: a charming lark, a palate cleanser. “Drumming” — even shorn of its repeats, as it was in a stirring performance led by the percussionist Colin Currie during an evening of Reich at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday — lasts nearly an hour, a capacious catalog of textures and moods.

In the relatively intimate surroundings of Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, “Drumming” felt more immediate and immersive than it had last month at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. There is a passage that stood out in the second of its four sections, in which the players put down a quick-flowing marimba line, and then suddenly, atop it, the same rhythm, but higher in pitch, somehow more hopeful.

Digging back into Mr. Reich’s body of work to find the ultimate genesis of his new Quartet, which had its American premiere on Wednesday between “Clapping Music” (performed by Mr. Currie and Mr. Reich) and “Drumming,” you might come up with this moment. The new work is full of such moments of aching, bright-eyed hopefulness expressed in a mallet instrument, though in a far more overtly melodic, even ingratiating mode than the early-career Reich of “Drumming.”

Written for two vibraphones (Mr. Currie and Daniel Druckman) and two pianos (Simon Crawford-Phillips and Philip Moore), the 17-minute Quartet is Mr. Reich’s first piece for those two instruments alone, and the combination is ingenious and seductive, and deployed with subtle craftsmanship. The milky vibraphones tend to take center stage, but the pianos find ample opportunities to assert themselves. Sometimes the vibraphone lines are more liquid, and sometimes they feel percussive alongside a velvety gush in the pianos.

The work has an alert, jazzy, urban character — suavely melancholy in its nocturnal slower middle section, with angular yet genial rhythms that evoke Broadway. Perhaps it was the news earlier on Wednesday that Mr. Reich and Stephen Sondheim, long mutual admirers, would be appearing together in January as part of Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series, but moments in the Quartet had the melancholy yet buoyant, confident feel of Sondheim songs like “Finishing the Hat,” from “Sunday in the Park with George,” which Mr. Reich has set for solo piano. (At least one critic at the world premiere in London two weeks ago thought similarly.)

Dissonances occasionally pop out and harmonies elegantly darken, only to brighten again. This is pleasant, easy, uplifting listening. The Quartet’s placement on the program was apt: As far as nourishment, it lies somewhere between the palate cleanser that is “Clapping Music” and the feast of “Drumming.”