Royal Festival Hall, London

Classical review: Steve Reich/London Sinfonietta - Turn down the Radiohead, Steve

3.00

There is much to like and admire about the great minimalist, but he should have looked elsewhere for pop inspiration

The music of Steve Reich, at its greatest, describes a kind of ecstasy. From the astral glow of Music for 18 Musicians and Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ to the heat-haze of Drumming and Six Marimbas, the darting flames of love and grief in Daniel Variations and Tehillim, the complex inflexions of Different Trains and The Cave, the Shaker simplicity of Clapping Music and the dazzling purity of Cello Counterpoint and Piano Phase, the 76-year-old composer creates something vast and extraordinary from minute changes of rhythm and timbre, Beethovenian in its effect, though not in its vernacular. The soundworld may be Reich's alone but it's a formula to which any three-chord, three-minute songwriter might aspire: to alter the listener, to sharpen, open, provoke and enhance.

Along with the hits, there are Reich B-sides, works that are never less than engaging but somehow miss greatness. Premiered last week in London, Birmingham, Brighton and Glasgow, and inspired by a chance meeting with Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, Radio Rewrite falls into this class, as do 2 x 5 and Double Sextet, which framed the new work in London Sinfonietta's programme. After the reliable pleasure of Clapping Music, performed by Reich and David Hockings, and the caffeinated perfection of Mats Bergström's reading of Electric Counterpoint (less a description of Heaven than a description of Heaven on Earth, all gleam and streamlined comfort, like a high-range hybrid car on a smooth country road on a warm autumn day), a sense of routine set in.

The landscape of 2 x 5 is urban, a thing of glass and concrete and steel, but viewed as if from an air-conditioned interior. London Sinfonietta's live quintet of electric guitars, bass, drum and piano was as disciplined as its prerecorded counterpart, the bass's closing octave leaps a curiously flamboyant flourish in an otherwise muted work. In its instrumentation, Radio Rewrite acts as a bridge between 2 x 5 and Double Sextet. The latter's mirrored consorts of strings, woodwind and tuned percussion present a more enigmatic face than Radio Rewrite, though this could be the result of listening out for the doomy chord-changes and fey melodic fragments of Radiohead's songs "Everything in its Right Place" and "Jigsaw Falling Into Place".

An abrasive, shofar-like clarinet line and the shuddering muddying of harmony from vibraphones provided interest in a rather bland sequence of five movements. Reich's technique remains a marvel. Nonetheless, after nearly 50 years of favouring the Early French polyphonists, modal jazz and African music as his influences, unmoved alike by disco, punk, techno, krautrock or Motown, Radiohead seems an odd place for him to start a relationship with pop: too thin, too drab, too short on ecstasy and heat.

Berlin was the focus of last weekend's The Rest is Noise events, which saw an evening of cabaret from members of the Berlin Philharmonic (Queen Elizabeth Hall, London **). From the no-drinks rule to the search-engine statistics narrated by actor Robert Gallinowski – who knew there were more than 70 newspapers in 1920s Berlin? – the ensemble seemed intent on removing the faintest trace of danger and decadence from their programme. While singer Dagmar Manzel gamely transformed herself from shop-girl to vamp, grieving mother to crone, Pierrot to sexually frustrated housewife and battered woman, the players sat stolidly on their chairs, delivering ersatz jazz by composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and Hanns Eisler with faultless precision. Though Gallinowski's readings of poems by Yvan Goll and his contemporaries peeled back the veneer of hedonism to reveal the desperation behind it, the thesis was muddy, the relationship between high art and low life ill-defined. Prokofiev's Sonata in D for flute and piano (written in the Urals in 1942) has nothing to do with Berlin cabaret, however beautifully it is played.

Vladimir Jurowski's performance of The Threepenny Opera (Royal Festival Hall, London ****) with the London Philharmonic Orchestra had more tang and grit, and, pace Radio Rewrite, more Beethovenian ambition. Brecht's brutal lyrics (required listening in an age when we are being encouraged to hate and fear the poor) and Weill's sour-sweet orchestrations registered vividly in Ted Huffman's icily stylised semi-staging.

Actor Max Hopp narrated, singing the "Ballad of Mackie Messer" with vulpine charm, as Mark Padmore's guarded, unknowable Macheath drifted from sweetheart to sweetheart to brothel and to jail, breaking – or bruising – the hearts of Polly Peachum (Allison Bell), Lucy Brown (Gabriela Istoc) and Jenny (Meow Meow). Old hands Dame Felicity Palmer (Mrs Peachum) and Sir John Tomlinson (J J Peachum) proved that classical musicians can straddle cabaret and the concert hall. Best in show? The LPO's indefatigable Catherine Edwards, multitasking on celesta, harmonium and piano.

Critic's Choice

Canada's ARC Ensemble makes its debut at London's Wigmore Hall today with a concert of "degenerate music", including Mendelssohn's unfinished Violin Sonata, Szymon Laks's Piano Quintet and Paul Ben-Haim's Piano Quartet. Also tonight, Oliver Knussen conducts Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in a feisty programme of works by Ruggles, Ives, Cage, Carter, and others, at the CBSO Centre, Birmingham.

Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tv Review: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series began tonight with a feature-length special
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee