The only time I’d seen Max Richter previously was when he supported the Balanescu Quartet in Edinburgh last year. On that occasion, the set was mainly solo piano with electronics. Tonight, however, Richter was accompanied by a string quintet comprised of two violins, two cellos and a viola. The sound was consequently fuller, and bore much more resemblance to the albums. Most of the pieces played tonight were drawn from The Blue Notebooks and Songs From Before, with the disembodied voices of Robert Wyatt and Tilda Swinton reading from texts by Haruki Murakami and Franz Kafka respectively.
Richter’s oeuvre is fairly minimalist piano-led orchestral music with an electronic undercurrent and tinged with melancholy. In many ways it is typical of the plethora of rock/classical crossover artists in that the playing is spare, with no virtuosic grandstanding. Even so, it was an impressive and moving set. It was odd, though, that Richter and his piano were at the back of the stage behind the five string players. It made for a slightly surreal spectacle during the solo keyboard pieces when you could hardly see him behind five seated, motionless musicians looking a little self-conscious. That said, musically there was little to fault it.
Support was provided by RememberRemember, a guitar and sampler act. I’ve seen plenty do what he does before – running simple guitar lines through the sampler and building them into a dense and complex piece of music. Few, though, have done it with the same wit and imagination. He used objects such as scissors, a lighter and a squeaky toy shark as percussion, and played recorder and xylophone too. At times it was redolent of Durutti Column or Rothko. The tour de force was the final track of the three he played, which gradually built into a powerful, cinematic epic culminating in a percussive climax of sampled handclaps. It was exceptionally well done. He needs to improve his stagecraft, though. Much of the time was spent crawling amongst the cables trying to work out what needed to be plugged in and where, whilst grinning embarrassedly at the audience. A fine set though.