The hook for this terrific recording of three of Steve Reich's most attractive works is the use of alternate versions of the several pieces that differ from the original recordings on Nonesuch. This recording has Reich's imprimatur; he enthusiastically recommends the performances in a program note. The most radical departure from the original version is Piano Counterpoint, Vincent Corver's arrangement of Six Pianos for a single live pianist with the other five parts prerecorded. This allows the piece to fit nicely into Reich's "Counterpoint" series, which includes Vermont Counterpoint for flutes and New York Counterpoint for clarinets. Corver also speeds up the tempo so the piece has an even more propulsive aural energy, although in live performance it's hard to beat the visceral excitement of six pianists on-stage. The London Steve Reich Ensemble version of the Triple Quartet, unlike the Kronos Quartet's premiere recording, uses three live quartets, and is one of three performance options that Reich specified in the score, the third being an orchestral version with 36 players. This is the first commercial recording of this version.
Ralph Vaughan Williams' A London Symphony, otherwise known as the Symphony No. 2 in G major, was composed between 1911 and 1913, and premiered in 1914. After the score was lost in the mail, reconstructed from the short score and orchestral parts, and revised twice, the symphony was published at last in 1920, though it was ultimately replaced by the definitive version in 1936, with cuts to the about 20 minutes of the original material. This recording by Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra presents the 1920 version, along with three short works, Sound sleep for female voices and small orchestra, Orpheus with his lute for voice and orchestra, and the Variations for brass band. The filler pieces are delightful rarities that Vaughan Williams specialists will find of some interest, though most listeners will prize this recording for the energetic and colorful performance of the symphony, which is one of the composer's most vivid and satisfying works.
Hausmusik’s performance of the Mendelssohn Octet comes with the advantage of a sensibly steady tempo for the famous scherzo, allowing for maximum transparency and lightness; and a dazzling finale in which for once the cello’s first scurrying fugal entry sounds crystal clear. The First String Quintet, and the Op. 13 Quartet – Mendelssohn’s homage to the late quartets of the recently deceased Beethoven – are also miraculous products of the composer’s teenage years. The Quintet is quite beautifully done here, but the Quartet, like the late Quintet, Op. 87, is rather lacking in tension and urgency. Woldemar Bargiel was Schumann’s brother-in-law. For all its obvious weaknesses, his Octet contains some attractive ideas, and Divertimenti’s performance makes a strong case for it. Divertimenti is impressive in the Mendelssohn, too – though its finale is not quite as exhilarating as Hausmusik’s; and in the last resort neither group can quite match the élan of the ASMF Chamber Ensemble.