Everyone knows Steve Reich’s place in the history of minimalism, his pioneering contribution being his early tape loops causing thrills and confusion with phase slippages. Like Glass, Reich went mainstream with the incorporation of larger and more orthodox musical forces, but he’s not nearly as dreary or repetitive. To clarify, of course he’s repetitive, but he doesn’t repeat the same bland tricks time after time.
This recording by Kristjan Jarvi with the Tonkunstler-Orchester Niederosterreich and Chorus Sine Nomine knows how to get the most out of this kind of Reich, and that’s by turning it into maximalism. There are no small gestures here, only big, bold, brassy slabs of sound, akin to the vast metal pillars of Donald Judd. Three Movements moves from plinky piano rhythms through Doppler Effect string swoops before splitting into warring factions in the final movement, pursued by morse code marimba chatter. The Desert Music is grander still, incorporating choir for vast emotional swells reminiscent of Orrf’s Carmina Burana. The manner in which passages and motifs whoosh past is indeed like desert dust whorls, with shakers evoking rattlesnakes. It all threatens to overflow, but such is Jarvi’s control that he keeps these vast forces teetering on the brink.