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Steve Reich: The String Quartets

Mivos Quartet (DG)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Steve Reich
WTC 9/11; Triple Quartet; Different Trains
Mivos Quartet
DG 486 3385   56:04 mins


Different Trains, composed in 1988, marked a significant, albeit logical, step-change for the use of recorded sound in a chamber music work. The voices become an extension of the string quartet, with string phrases replicating the speech patterns, often in tutti. Split into three movements, the work samples recollections that contrast Reich’s own train journeys across the US (shuttling between separated parents) with those of Holocaust victims in Europe, forced into cramped carriages to face an unknown hell.

There’s an edginess to the Mivos Quartet’s playing; lines are angular and brusque. The pointed articulation and fragmented words evoke a jerky train – a faster service than listeners familiar with the Kronos Quartet (Nonesuch) might be used to. The second movement is expunged of any fluttery vibrato – ‘they shaved us’ dives into darkness, leaving a lasting impression.

The same cannot be said for WTC 9/11, the 2010 work that commemorates the New York terrorist attacks. Like Different Trains, it was composed and premiered by the Kronos Quartet and follows a similar style, layering contrasting narrative (‘I knew it wasn’t an accident right away’; ‘I thought it was an accident’). Despite Mivos Quartet’s sharp rendering, the overall effect falls flat. Happily, Triple Quartet (1999) – inspired by Bartók’s String Quartet No. 4 – sounds as exciting as ever; Mivos’s recording of this distinctive piece is not to be missed.


Claire Jackson