Steve Reich: Tehillim (ECM New Series 1215)

Steve Reich
Tehillim

Pamela Wood voice
Cheryl Bensman voice
Rebecca Armstrong voice
Jay Clayton voice
Bob Becker percussion
Russ Hartenberger percussion
Garry Kvistad percussion
Steve Reich percussion
Gary Schall percussion
Glen Velez percussion
Virgil Blackwell clarinet, flute
Mort Silver clarinet, piccolo
Vivian Burdick oboe
Ellen Bardekoff English horn
Edmund Niemann electric organ
Nurit Tilles electric organ
Shem Guibbory violin
Robert Chausow violin
Ruth Siegler viola
Chris Finckel cello
Lewis Paer bass
George Manahan conductor
Recorded October 1981 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Human languages are contrived, insofar as they have undergone extensive sociopolitical reshaping. In Steve Reich’s Tehillim, however, words take on a self-sustaining feel, deeply rooted as they are in the nutrient-rich soil of the composer’s instrumental configuration, and serve to dictate the rhythmic and dynamic flow of a seminal shift in American “minimalism.” Being the first document of this new path in Reich’s personal and professional development, this recording matches an endearing trepidation to every practiced gesture. The music therein, says Reich, may be “heard as traditional and new at the same time,” as it was both a way for him to explore his Jewish roots while weaving a fresh brand of secularism into the many liturgical threads at his feet. At just under 30 minutes, Tehillim is but a fleeting unraveling of that very fabric.

Tehillim, meaning “praises” and referring to the Hebrew Book of Psalms from which it borrows its texts, is more than a remarkable work. It is also a work of remarks. The scoring is deceptively simple, built around a core of drum and clapping before introducing a female voice doubled by clarinet. This opens into a series of four-part canons against a backdrop of electric organs and maraca. Each melodic line—human and instrumental alike—moves distinctly, unaffected by the trappings of vibrato or other flourishes, as an imitative counterpoint works its way into the smoke of this short-burning votive candle. Part II carries the women’s voices into higher elevations in which the passage of time is marked by a light interplay of drums. Part III is the slowest of the four, ebbing and flowing with a breath’s involuntary precision. Like the most engaging of Gavin Bryars’s ensemble pieces, this section pulses with the quiet splendor of a deep-sea organism. The final part opens our eyes again to sunlight. With the barest assortment of auditory keys, it unlocks just enough doors to usher us into a more personal understanding of exultation. It can be no coincidence, then, that the derivation of the title—Hey, Lamed, Lamed (HLL)—also forms the root for “hallelujah.” And so, when the hallelujahs that close the piece spring up like so much plant life, they seem to forage even deeper into their origins. Tehillim is the Tree of Life feeding off itself, bathing in the spores of the Word made flesh.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Steve Reich: Tehillim (ECM New Series 1215)

  1. Great review of course (you write very well), but all I can say about Tehellim is that it is a highly relevant piece of music that lifts the spirits and is simply timeless. I’ve spent countless hours over the years mesmerized by the various harmonies created by the intersecting parts. An essential recording from a label that has an amazing track record at creating essential recordings!

  2. Yes, “relevant” is the word. It really is difficult to capture the timeless beauty of this record. I’ll never forget how I felt when I heard it for the first time. It seems there has been some debate about which is the “definitive” recording of this piece. Personally, I just prefer this version because it is the one I have always known.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s