Reich: Pulse/Quartet

International Contemporary Ensemble

Reich: Pulse/Quartet
2 February 2018

Reich: Pulse/Quartet

International Contemporary Ensemble

Steve Reich’s Pulse/Quartet includes the world-premiere recordings of Pulse, performed by the International Contemporary Ensemble, and Quartet, played by the Colin Currie Group.

The Los Angeles Times notes the “lyricism, gorgeous instrumental textures and affecting harmonies” of Pulse, and the New York Times says of Quartet: “Written for two vibraphones and two pianos, Quartet is Mr. Reich’s first piece for those two instruments alone, and the combination is ingenious and seductive, and deployed with subtle craftsmanship.”


People often remark that Steve Reich’s music can be an acquired taste, one only for those serious, modern-classical music listeners wanting to expand their horizons. As someone who has been firmly entrenched in the romantic orchestral style for most of my music life, I can say that yes, Reich can be challenging, but he can also be inspiring, fascinating and even easy to listen to.

Pulse (2015) and Quartet (2013) are two of Reich’s newer works, recorded here by International Contemporary Ensemble and the Colin Currie Group respectively. Both of whom did the premiere performances of each work, which means they bring a new level of understanding to these second performances. The pairing of the works is deliberate, with Reich himself saying that Pulse was: ‘In part, a reaction to Quartet, in which I changed keys more frequently than in any previous work. In Pulse I felt the need to stay put harmonically and spin out smoother wind and string melodic lines in canon over a constant pulse in the electric bass and or piano … All in all, a calmer, more contemplative piece.’

This is certainly the case from the opening melodic lines of Pulse, which gently spins outwards. Reich’s use of the piano as an almost percussive instrument is not revolutionary anymore, but with the gentle, cascading ideas from both wind and strings, Pulse has an edge it might not otherwise have had. The bouncing and energetic Quartet then provides a delightful contrast. Although, as Reich commented above, Quartet has different harmonic ideas, there is no mistaking that minimalistic rhythmic style for anyone but Reich. His fans will savour getting to know these recent works, whereas those who haven’t heard him before will enjoy getting their feet wet with this terrific new recording.

Kate Rockstrom is a friend of Readings.

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