German born, UK raised pianist Max Richter creates a wistful fusion of classical chamber music and electronics that he’s described as “post-classical”. His third album, Songs From Before, was released last year by Fat Cat on their 130701 imprint. It is a fairly short cycle of a dozen pieces for piano, laptop and string sextet, with some accompanying extracts of writing by author Haruki Murakami read by Robert Wyatt. The mood is reflective, but not sombre – introspective, but not self-absorbed.
“Song” opens the record. It’s an instrumental piece built upon a subtle, subterranean rumbling beat that sounds like distant thunder. It’s quiet, but vaguely sinister. There is a subdued, looped organ motif overlaying this, but the main melodic thrust is provided by a yearning solo violin. The track’s coda sees a viola taking over, changing key, and subtly improvising on the initial melody lines. Then the music dissolves into the sound of rainfall, and the next track, “Flowers For Yulia”. The playing is spare, but the effect is deeply satisfying. It feels like it ought to be twice its four minute duration as it goes by too quickly.
Richter’s other two albums are Memoryhouse (Late Junction 2002) and The Blue Notebooks (130701 2004), the latter featuring Tilda Swinton reading extracts from Kafka’s Blue Octavo Notebooks. All three are highly recommended late night listening, especially if you like your chill-out music to have an intellectual edge.