Max RICHTER, “Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works” – Max Richter (p. / synth.) /Deutsches Filmorch. /Robert Ziegler – DG

Max RICHTER, “Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works” – Max Richter, piano, synthesizer/Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg/Robert Ziegler – Deutsche Grammaphon 00289 479 6952, 67:24, (11/11/16) ****:

Absolutely beautiful music that should not be taken lightly.

The German born American composer-violinist Max Richter writes overtly emotional and beautiful music that some websites have taken to categorize as ‘neo-classical.’ In the music industry’s obsession with categories and the desire to create them, this means – I guess – music that it is not quite ‘pop/easy listening’ (another wonderfully obtuse term that is presumed to be the opposite of ‘difficult to listen to’) and not quite ‘classical.’

Regardless, his music holds great appeal for a large number of listeners and for good reason. I first became familiar with Richter’s work with his “recomposed” Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and his atmospheric Sleep. Subscription TV fans may know his absolutely lovely but creepy score to the equally provocative but unsettling show “The Leftovers.”

The Woolf Works presented here is the composer’s arrangement of the three sections to a Royal Ballet production based on three novels from the iconic and cult-like British novelist/essayist Virginia Woolf. The three sections – and the books from which they derive their inspiration – are Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves. Woolf’s writings are deep, pensive, psychological and within the story lines are hints (some not too subtle) of the author’s brilliant but troubled existence.

Richter’s music is equally colorful; brilliant and a bit eccentric as in the Orlando section and beautiful but wrenching in places as in the two bookend sections, Mrs. Dalloway and The Waves. Richter actually found what appears to be the only recording of Virginia Woolf herself reading a section of an essay on the use of language to open this work. It is simultaneously awe inspiring and – yes – a bit creepy. I found it nearly impossible to not stay emotionally very involved with the last movement, The Waves, as it opens with actress Gillian Anderson reading Woolf’s suicide note she left for her husband. The music in all three sections of Woolf Works is moving to the point you almost can’t move and, again, the ground bass; the lugubrious pace of The Waves with its overlying beautiful melody and some synthesizer sounds is positively riveting.

The only other use or adaptation of something of Virginia Woolf with music as a critical component that impressed me as much came in Philip Glass’s score to the film adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s novel “The Hours” – one interweaving subplot of which happens to be “Mrs. Dalloway.”  I mention that for readers who might know that work and the movie and to emphasize that if you liked that you will very certainly like Max Richter’s rendition.

So, I really don’t care what ‘category’ of music retailers need to put Richter’s music in. To the classical ‘purist’ who may view Max’s music as a bit lightweight; I shrug. It is lovely, moving, well-constructed and often very enticing.  I strongly recommend this album and I’d bet you will want to seek out some of Virginia Woolf’s writings as well. They are emotionally powerful as is this music.

—Daniel Coombs

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