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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference