Reich Mixes Music With Unnerving Realism

Reich trends water with Mallet Quartet and Dance Pattern, while his musical score to the September 11th attacks will divide

Composer: Reich
Repertoire: WTC 9/11; Mallet Quartet; Dance Patterns
Artists: Kronos Quartet, SO Percussion, Steve Reich and Musicians
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Chamber
Label: NONESUCH 7559796457

The Music: WTC 9/11 is Reich’s September 11th piece, scored for the Kronos Quartet playing against a backing track of real-time documentary voices and interviews carried out after the event
 – WTC standing for ‘World Trade Centre’, but also ‘World To Come’, Reich says. Mallet Quartet is another trademark study in phased repeating figures; Dance Patterns has roots in music for a film about choreography.

The Performance: Given that composing music about a catastrophe like the September 11th terrorist attacks is essentially impossible, Reich’s admirers will consider him to have avoided the major pitfalls. The documentary realism licensed by archival voices of air traffic controllers, panicked New Yorkers et al locates the music in the right setting; I like touches like the New York City cantor who intones psalms near the end, but hearing words like ‘ambulance’ echoed back as a jaunty string phrase puzzles me. Mallet Quartet (2009) and Dance Patterns (2002) are dependable rather than remarkable.

The Verdict: Compared to Reich’s previous release, 2x5 (Nonesuch, 7559 797864), Mallet Quartet and Dance Patterns tread water and WTC 9/11 will divide listeners, but Reich’s sincerity is beyond question.

Want More? Gloria Coates’s String Quartet
No.8 (Naxos, 8.559152) is the most powerful and restrained September 11th memorial
I’ve heard.