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Max Richter Music from Woolf Works

Max Richter has surpassed even his own exceptionally high standards

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by Jason Lewis, UK Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: January, 2018
He is a remarkably versatile composer.  Yet, on 'Woolf Works' he may have surpassed his previous achievements. 

Max Richter
Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works
Deutsche Grammaphon

In 2015 Wayne McGregor staged his ambitious ballet 'Woolf Works' inspired by the novels of Virginia Woolf.   The person he chose to score the ballet, and to perform the hefty task of  interpreting one of literatures most lyrical and visionary novelists, was contemporary classical composer, performer and producer Max Richter. 

Richter relishes a challenge: eight hour long lullabies, 'recomposing' Vivaldi's Four Seasons, musical protests against the Iraq war and responses to the 2005 London bombings, as well as writing the occasional film soundtrack... He is a remarkably versatile composer.  Yet, on 'Woolf Works' he may have surpassed his previous achievements. 

Those aware of Richter's 'On the Nature of Daylight' and other pieces that have been used extensively in TV and film, will find similarities in the first section of Woolf Works. Based on the novel Mrs Dalloway - there are gentle piano melodies and interweaving strings on the opening In The Garden, deep and sorrowful cello's on War Anthem and a graceful marriage of the musical motifs on the concluding Meeting Again.

The middle section of the album -  which deals with the novel Orlando explores more unfamiliar textures, as suits a book about a fictional 16th-century male poet who transforms into a woman and travels through time. 

Traditional orchestral sounds are dramatically upended and sound like that they've been cut up and taped back together on Modular Astronomy. Throughout the section electronic noises take precedence until they disintegrate on the penultimate Possibilities, making way for the lonely piano on the closing number 'Love Songs'. 

Most breathtaking is the closing section 'Tuesday', based on Woolf's final novel The Waves.  The section opens with Gillian Anderson reading from Woolf's suicide note to her husband - it is beautifully read and is desperately sad. The sound of waves crash behind her and then, over the following twenty minutes a solemn organ and string section evoke the sounds of a desolate shoreline.  The appearance of Grace Davidson's solo soprano midway through the piece adds to the funereal tone, then, as the music fades away the sound of waves close the piece. It is one of Richter's most powerful compositions. 

Regardless of wether or not you are familiar with Woolf's writings, this album is as a stunning work of contemporary classical music that stands on its own.  If it leads you to re-read and re-appraise her novels, then that is a magnificent achievement.


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Jason Lewis
UK Music Editor

Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.

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