With 1bn streams to his name, Max Richter is a leading proponent of post-classical, the boundary-crossing genre that lies like a fine mist somewhere between minimalism, ambient music and classical. The style reclaims qualities like beauty and emotiveness that the postwar avant-garde abhorred as reactionary, although Richter adds interesting conceptual elaborations to his compositions.
Following 2015’s Sleep, an eight-hour piece about a night’s rest, intended as protest music against modern culture’s disdain for sleep, comes the British composer’s new album, Voices, which is inspired by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. US actor KiKi Layne recites passages from it over Richter’s music, alongside anonymous non-English-speaking voices from around the world.
For the score, Richter has assembled what he calls a “negative orchestra”, dominated by lower frequency instruments such as cello and double bass. Soprano Grace Davidson sings high vocal melodies, a wordless note of striving. The tone is elegiac and dignified, portraying the Universal Declaration as noble but unrealised. Piano and violin enter into mournful dialogue in “Origins”. Slow-motion drones move through “Murmuration” like the passage of history. But the concept doesn’t quite come off.
The declaration has been filleted for Layne’s spoken word passages and its language has been updated. Despite these editing choices, however, Richter’s sonorous soundtrack effectively monumentalises it. The idea that it could be a living document, amendable for changing times — the original doesn’t mention the environment, for instance — isn’t meaningfully considered. A livelier, more clashing work, with a greater sense of dynamics, would have made the Universal Declaration seem more current than this handsome but static piece.
‘Voices’ is released by Decca Records
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