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Max Richter
Voices Ed Power , August 14th, 2020 08:46

Max Richter leads from the bottom on new album, Voices

Max Richter is that rare avant-garde composer guided by raw emotion as much as by steely intellect. He deploys his compassion and earnestness with devastating alacrity on his new album, an opus celebrating human dignity and advocating on behalf of the disadvantaged and discriminated-against. But while the higher purpose behind Voices is obviously beyond reproach, the surprise is just how much joy it contains.

Richter’s work has always brimmed with empathy .That has been the case whether he was writing sophisticated lullaby suites (Sleep) or applying a post-modern context to Vivaldi (Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi – The Four Seasons). Such values are again to the fore on Voices, which pays tribute to but also advocates fiercely on behalf of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the summer of coronavirus and Black Lives Matter, the importance of us all uniting and standing up for one another is obvious. Richter, however, isn’t here to preach.

Voices instead, humbly yet with tremendous fortitude, bears witness to the Declaration of Human Rights and the part it has played in giving a voice to those who might otherwise have been left suffer in silence. It opens with a recording from 1948 of Eleanor Roosevelt quoting from the preamble to the Declaration, drafted as humanity lurched from the evils of the Second World War to the asphyxiating dread of the nuclear arms race.

"Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world," she says.

The music that folds in around is strident and insistent – but never overbearingly so. In a year in which the world has spun head over heels how apt, moreover that Richter should debut on record his concept of an "upside down orchestra". This consists of 24 cellos, twelve double basses, eight violins, six violas and a harp, aided occasional by soprano Grace Davidson and by understated narration from actor Kiki Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk).

What’s the big idea? Well, it’s that the bass "leads", which gives pieces such as 'Choral' and 'Murmuration' a processional, almost earthen quality. Often the music seems to rise up from beneath your feet, as if Richter is tapping into an essence deeper than everyday human experience. Side by side, he has utilised crowd-sourced recordings, compiled over the past 10 years, of people from around the world reading from the Declaration in a variety of languages.

Richter brings the shutters down not with a crescendo but with the creeping piano fade of 'Mercy'. After the call to arms that went before, this is a retreat inwards, towards stillness and contemplation. Perhaps Richter is telling us that all storms – even the one through which we are currently living – pass eventually and that peace will find us in the end.