Max Richter, memoryhouse

John Schaefer

By John Schaefer

on 08.07.13 in Reviews


Max Richter

This German/British composer, producer and keyboardist specializes in a lush, often electronically enhanced sound that has both a cinematic sweep, and a nod to the rhythmic strategies of the American Minimalists. Both are easily explained: Richter has done a fair number of soundtracks, and he has also been a part of the Minimalist-inspired London group known as Piano Circus. With his brilliant “recomposition” of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in 2012, Richter found himself on the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon label, who doubled down on their rising star composer by reissuing most of his earlier recordings. (All are available now on eMusic.) This album, memoryhouse, was never allowed to go out of print by Fat Cat Records, and remains an excellent introduction to Richter’s music, especially to the more classical/orchestral part of his repertoire. The sound ranges from a kind of hazy recollection of classical music (“Jan’s Notebook”) to spare, electronic soundscapes (“Untitled/Figures”), but Richter’s sweet spot is somewhere between those two. “Europe, After the Rain,” for example, is a brooding, noir-ish piece for piano with occasional violin and taped sounds. Another highlight is “The Twins (Prague),” a lyrical, rhythmic piano piece in the style of the latter-day Philip Glass etudes. “Sarajevo” features stratospheric vocals and urgent, dramatic orchestral writing; without a single word, it suggests a lament for that historically troubled city.

A sepia-tinged, electroacoustic portrait of Europe from a leading “post-classical” musician

Much of memoryhouse is concerned with place, history and nostalgia. Melodies from one piece resurface in different contexts later on, like memories that you almost feel you can pin down but prove to be elusive. One of the album’s central works, “November,” a churning piece for string orchestra (and perhaps some very subtle electronics?), reworks the theme used earlier in “Untitled/Figures.” The occasional electronic or tape effect offsets and enhances this sepia-tinged portrait of a bygone Mittel-Europa.