Happy Birthday Steve Reich

Steve Reich turns 80 today. I can’t think of a better way to fete the composer on record than DG’s recent reissue of the 1974 recording of Drumming. Performed by Reich and “Musicians,” it presents one of the seminal works in his catalog. Drumming rounded out the first “phase” of his career (sorry, couldn’t resist), and it was followed by pieces that explore intricate pitch relationships and, from the 1980s onward, an increased interest in historical context and dramatic narrative. The triple LP set also contains the vital works Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ and Six Pianos. 

A new piece by Reich will be unveiled at Carnegie Hall on November 1st. Thus, he remains an imposing presence in the field of contemporary classical music. Happy birthday Mr. Reich, and many more.

Decca Sound – the Mono Years

In music circles, there has been a lot of debate of late about the current vinyl revival. Are people drawn to LPs because they want a “warmer sounding” recording? Is it the artwork? Or is consumerism gone amok to blame?

If you can get past the heated rhetoric and have it in your budget to buy a hefty CD boxed set, the newly reissued Decca Sound -the Mono Years provides a sense of perspective on the advent of the LP.  Originally touted as “ffrr” – full frequency range recordings – the set includes releases from 1944-’56, as well as essays that help to put them into historical context.

There’s something here for nearly everyone. But I’m particularly drawn to the vintage Stravinsky recordings, including a performance of Petrouchka that appeared on the very first LP recording!

Happy 90th Birthday Pierre Boulez

Composer and conductor Pierre Boulez turns ninety today. This year will see a number of celebrations of his nonagenarian status. Two boxed sets by recording labels with which he has long been associated up the ante for audiophiles.

Pierre Boulez – 20th Century (DG 0289 479 4261 0) is a 44 CD boxed CD featuring Boulez conducting a panoply of music by 20/21 composers: Bartók, Berg, Birtwistle, Debussy, Ligeti, Messiaen, Ravel, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Szymanowski, Varèse, Webern, and Boulez himself. Handsomely yet snugly packaged, it will fit well on the shelf of any enthusiast of modern music. The set was released in February as a limited edition.

March 31st sees the release of Pierre Boulez: The Complete Erato Recordings (Erato 0825646190485), a 14 CD collection. It includes recordings by Xenakis, Donatoni, Grisey, Dufourt, Ferneyhough, Harvey, Höller, and others. These more recent compositions make the boxed set an excellent and complementary companion to the DG set.

Is the prospect of nearly sixty CDs a bit too daunting a starter kit or refresher course? Then perhaps you might prefer Harmonia Mundi’s flash sale. Over at HM’s USA site, you can pick up the Wergo recording of Boulez’s early but essential Structures (WER 6011).

However you choose to celebrate Boulez’s birthday, do celebrate. The contributions he has made to 20/21 concert music can scarcely be measured – even on 57 CDs!