Max Richter: The Blue Notebooks (CD, Fatcat, March 2004)

In a lot of ways, Max Richter was one of the key early figures in that genre which blends elements of electronica into classical chamber music. Having studied composition under Luciano Berio, and then collaborated with Future Sounds Of London on Dead Cities, he was ideally placed to do so. I’ve been lapping this sort of thing up for over a decade now, but I’ve never quite got into Richter before now. I’d heard 2002’s Memoryhouse and found it a little obvious. I guess I was a little put off by his quite explicit rejection of the avant garde in favour of tonality on populist grounds. He cites Purcell as an influence, and a couple of years back he made an homage to Vivaldi as part of Deutsche Grammophon’s Recomposed series, and I have no time for either Purcell or Vivaldi. So it was quite a surprise to me, one day this autumn when, hearing an intriguing and rather beautiful track selected for me by Google Music All Access, I discovered that it was a track (Shadow Journal, for the record) from this record, which I’d never heard. So, here we are. The Blue Notebooks is based around Franz Kafka’s The Blue Octavo Notebooks and works by the (more-or-less) Polish poet (and Nobel laureate) Czesław Miłosz, and combines spoken word recitals with piano and string arrangements, plus samples and subtle electronic effects. It has to be said, the sound of a typewriter tapping away while a voice-over reads a journal over music is a pretty tired cinematic cliché… but somehow, it really works here. The quality of the diarizing is one big plus, and the extremely classy reading by the great Tilda Swinton is another. The music has an honest, emotional intensity which is perfectly coupled to the texts. And it is superbly recorded and produced. Will this be enough to make me fall in love with Max Richter’s music (and forget the frankly ridiculous bosh–baroque of the Fear Of Tigers remix of Autumn)? I can’t say… but this, this I do really like.

There’s an interesting technical piece on this in Sound On Sound, by the way.

This was bought for me as a gift.

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