Steve Reich’s highly anticipated September 11 lament comes ten years after the terrorist attacks and the release itself was not without controversy (note the revised album artwork). His account is everything we have come to expect from America’s greatest minimalist, and therein lies the problem.
WTC 9/11 serves as a bookend to the Kronos Quartet’s 1988 collaboration with the composer, Different Trains: a profound work in which the strings echo the sampled speech of Holocaust survivors. Reich has rehashed the technique, this time with the voices of air traffic controllers and firemen who were among the first to grasp the magnitude of the American tragedy.
What fails to move me is the mimicry, so poignant in Different Trains but cumbersome and almost tasteless here. Redeeming melodic interest comes in a reflective section of Hebrew Psalms, sung by Jews who prayed for the dead on the scene.
Just shy of 16 minutes long, WTC 9/11 is as immediately terse and engaging as, say, Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima. Reich’s structure and economy of means are masterful, but with the entire disc running to only 36 minutes I feel short-changed, despite the inclusion of a DVD. Even in fine readings by these revered Reich ensembles, Mallet Quartet and Dance Patterns feel like filler after such an emotional experience.