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

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
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.

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy