- Tehillim, for 3 sopranos, alto, winds, strings, percussion & keyboards
- The Desert Music, chamber version
By the early 1980s, there was very little about Steve Reich's music that was still strictly minimalist. Once grouped with Philip Glass and the other reductivist composers who came to the fore in the 1960s, Reich had moved on to large-scale works for chamber ensembles that were far grander in size and scope than his earliest compositions. Tehillim (1981) and The Desert Music (1984, here in a 2001 revision) are Reich's most elaborate pieces from this period, featuring the composer's characteristic pulsating rhythms and slowly shifting harmonies -- a musical language that arrived with Reich's breakthrough Drumming from 1971 and grew with 1976's Music for 18 Musicians. Yet Tehillim and The Desert Music also marked a departure for Reich: He called on his vocalists to sing texts, not just nonsense syllables, as in earlier pieces. Tehillim is a setting of portions of four Hebrew Psalms, while The Desert Music takes a series of William Carlos Williams's poems as inspiration. Both works have been recorded before: The Desert Music was originally released on Nonesuch in 1985 and Tehillim on ECM in '82. But as with all great music, repeated hearings enhance appreciation, especially with performances as fine as these. Here, conductor Alan Pierson and two ensembles from the Eastman School of Music, Ossia and Alarm Will Sound, offer a first-class recording. Ensemble balance and clarity are exemplary, and the vocalists, singing early-music-style with a pure tone and no vibrato, reveal the crystalline quality of the music in ideal fashion. In its revised form, The Desert Music has been reorchestrated somewhat and the number of players reduced. All the better to experience Reich's dazzling sonic textures as they gradually evolve from one to the next.