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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Go to the Max Richter website  Max Richter - Songs From Before [Fat Cat - 2006]

Max Richter is one of the most remarkable, and remarkably underexposed composers currently working in the UK. He has lent his piano playing and compositional skills to a variety of collaborators including Future Sound of London and Roni Size. He also co-founded the contemporary classical ensemble piano circus. Songs from before is his third solo album.

Richterís previous two works, Memory House, and The Blue Notebooks both fused contemporary classical music with electronic/electro-acoustics to varying degrees but this album has the electronic influences at it heart.

The albums contemplative opener Song is a case in point, studio wizardry creates a dense sombre atmosphere of distant percussion and piano over which comes a wonderfully mournful string solo. One of the albums many surprises is the inclusion of Robert Wyatt who throughout the album pops up to read selections from the work of celebrated Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. Iím not familiar with his writing but I am led to believe that much of his work exudes a sense of deep nostalgia, a feeling that much of Richterís work also evokes.

Flowers for Yulia is a layered mix of radio static, distant voices and overlapping string glissandi that sound almost like waves lapping against a shore. Throughout this wonderfully moving piece a familiar keynote theme from much of Richterís work appears. Those who have heard Memory House will instantly recognise it. The sweeping string melody that heralds such drama and emotion. Fragment is Richter alone with his piano. The simple understated playing is in stark contrast to the previous tracks complex counterpoint, but that only serves to focus the ear on the subtle beauty of the melody. Harmonium is one of my favourite pieces on the album. What sounds like a glockenspiel is mixed with controlled feedback drones and harmonic clouds of sound. Far more unconventional than anything he has done on previous albums, the pure sonic soup has an almost pastoral quality that recalls rural scenes and ancient monuments.

Those images are carried forward by Autumn Music 1 where Richterís piano combines with violin flowing in concentric circles around a minimalist dream melody, so much said with so little fuss. Robert Wyattís narration begins the albums most poignant moment in Time Passing. Sweeping electronic tones and the most minimal of piano place us on the distant sea mentioned in Wyattís narration where rain falls oblivious to the toil of man and machinery. Autumn Music 2 shines shafts of light onto an album of various degrees of darkness, Richterís piano playing more upbeat with the strings now heading skywards to redemption and  suggesting a vision of brighter futures. 

At less than forty minutes Songs from Before is sadly rather short, but in that time the amount of drama and emotion the composer injects to these songs is truly wonderful. This is a record that looks backwards with a stark melancholy while remaining fiercely modern in its approach and execution.

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

Duncan Simpson
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