Steve Reich Daniel Variations
- Released: April 7, 2008
- Label: Nonesuch
- 1.I saw a dream
- 2.My name is Daniel Pearl (I'm a Jewish American from Encino California)
- 3.Let the dream fall back on the dreaded
- 4.I sure hope Gabriel likes my music, when the day is done
Steve Reich's instrumental music seems to be more revered than his choral works, but it is good that you can hear both in one sitting on this recording. The vocal portion, Daniel Variations (2006) itself, is alternately inspired by Daniel's biblical story (4:2, 4:5, 4:16 & 4:19) of his encounter with the King of Babylon Nebuchadnezzar, and its relation thousands of years later to the tragedy of slain journalist Daniel Pearl, whose kidnapping and murder by Islamic extremists in 2002 was widely reported. Grant Gershon conducts the 12-voice Los Angeles Master Chorale fronting a 15-piece orchestra with five clarinetists, six percussionists, four pianists, and a string quartet from Reich's personal ensemble. The choral sections use specific phrases that are repeated and layered, giving the listener a sense of call and response/question and answer, though the replies may not be the ones we want to hear. The initial theme is an interpretation of Daniel's dreams of terrorist threats, with the elongated, spaced, and phased lyrics "I saw a dream, images upon my bed and visions in my head frightened me." In the best Reichian way, the chorale shifts dynamics, phrasings and 6/8 time at will in subtle liquid ways, ever evolving and mutating. "Let the Dream Fall Back on the Dreaded" is Daniel's defiant salvo back at the extremists. The inserted pieces include a choppy, vertical music stance, accented by the violins and pianos with the lyric line "My Name Is Daniel Pearl, I'm A Jewish American from Encino, California," with the vocal group singing his doomed praises. "I Sure Hope Gabriel Likes My Music, When the Day Is Done" is the brighter and hopeful epilogue, again in 6/8, and loosely based but not adapted from the theme of jazz violinist Stuff Smith's famous tune "I Sure Hope Gabriel Likes My Music." Pearl was also an amateur jazz and bluegrass violinist.
The instrumental piece, "Variations for Vibes, Pianos and Strings" (2005) is performed by the London Sinfonietta conducted by Alan Pierson, a three-part suite and modal construct that Reich was well known for in his middle career period compositions, utilizing three string quartets, four vibraphones, and two pianos. The textures are richly rendered as you would expect, as Reich writes consciously for, in his terminology, the usage of substituting sounds for silence. There's a feeling of redemption in the first "Fast" section, actually in midtempo, as darting kinetic sounds too quick to capture surround the string quartets as direct, heavy piano-cast bass accents give the piece tangents to jump off. "Slow" offers steady, sighing sounds and chiming pianos over a lilting foreshadowed motif, contrastingly haunting and remorseful. The second and final "Fast" segment is a buzzing, skittering near jig via the strings that zips along in three and a half minutes, remarkably brief for any of Reich's works, similar to the first movement but more dense and interactive. This is another of the many tributes for Reich on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, new music which is always welcome, and a very worthwhile addition to his discography, highly recommended to his loyal legions. ~ Michael G. Nastos
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