Max Richter - The Blue Notebooks [130701 / FatCat - 2004]With the second album by Max Richter, FatCat and their 130701 imprint venture in yet another genre: post-classical music. Richter is a trained pianist (he studied with no less than the late Luciano Berio) who founded contemporary classical ensemble Piano Circus, commissioning and performing works by Arvo Part, Brian Eno, Steve Reich and Philip Glass along the years.
Richter is also known for his work with The future sound of London on Dead Cities and The Isness, as well as his orchestrations for Roni Size’s In the mode. His first solo album, Memoryhouse, was released two years ago on Late Junction and performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.
Since Richter studied with Lucian Berio, people might think that his work is quite experimental, obscure, and difficult to get into. But the composer focuses on melodies rather than on “uncoventionalness”, if I may say. One of the strengths (but at the same time a weakness) of this new album is its very “cinematic” feel. It’s great since it’s a guarantee for great moods and atmospheres, but at the same time, you can’t help but feel that this “cinematic” thing is at times, for all the great moments you get, a little generic, falling short of what one could expect of Richter’s obvious talents. Having said this, the mix of electronic, piano, cello, violin, viola and field recordings can be highly satisfying, especially if you’re into downtempo, melancholic and dreamy music.
If you take second track On the nature of daylight, it’s difficult not to fall for the superb, stirring, nostalgia-inducing melodies, the sheer beauty of the whole song. In the same orchestral vein, you get The trees. The other tracks are more minimal, especially the ones featuring electronics. Those ones usually are close to ambient music, with delicate violin or piano arrangements. However, my favourite tracks are the ones featuring an organ: the mood becomes almost funeral, eerie, creepy although never dark.
On some of the tracks, Tilda Swinton (who acted in films such as The Beach and Vanilla Sky) reads texts taken from Kafka or Milosz. Not really convincing, those bits kind of break the general mood. François Monti