Reich: Drumming

Reviewed on Thu 24 May, 2018

As epic as it is intricate, nearly half a century after its premiere in 1971, it remains the composer’s longest work, demanding phenomenal flexibility and reciprocity from Currie’s eponymous 10-strong group.

Percussionist Colin Currie launches his own label with what he describes as “a thrillingly unclassifiable musical colossus”: Steve Reich’s Drumming. As epic as it is intricate, nearly half a century after its premiere in 1971, it remains the composer’s longest work, demanding phenomenal flexibility and reciprocity from Currie’s eponymous 10-strong group. Split-second timing, too, as four pairs of tuned drums duel with ever-more feverish intensity in the work’s accelerating opening movement. The trio of excitable marimbas and vocals that follows conspicuously relishes Reich’s earthy, Ghana-influenced rhythms and luminous, discretely floating wordless accompaniment to hypnotic effect – Currie and companions exhilaratingly entwined in the music’s corkscrewing of atomised rhythms, melody and timbre. There’s greater, albeit adroitly disguised, virtuosity in a third-movement sextet featuring three ringing glockenspiels, whistling and piccolo that ends with bell-like Tibetan chanting. The finale’s innovative mixed-timbre ensemble carries itself with vibrant Gamelan exoticism. Muscular and nuanced, punchy and poetic, this is a thrilling must-have for Reichians and percussion aficionados.
–Michael Quinn