Max Richter – Memoryhouse (FatCat Records)

Max Richter – Memoryhouse (FatCat Records)

This is the flip side of rock ‘n’ roll. Where that musical genre is all about primaeval energy, immediacy and the unrefined, Memoryhouse deals in an altogether different currency. The début album from the contemporary British composer Max Richter is characterised by reminiscence, reflection and rarefaction. It is the sound of music in its most pure form.

First released in 2002, Memoryhouse is about to be re-issued to coincide with the world première of the album at the Barbican Hall in London where it will be performed live by the BBC Symphony Orchestra with Max Richter. Originally recorded with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Rumon Gamba and featuring the soloists Alex Balanescu on violin and soprano, Sarah Leonard it is a mesmeric sonic journey across an ageless Europe amidst a personal recollection of times, places and events; eighteen individual compositions all seamlessly linked together by delicate shifts in mood and the constant companions of beauty and sadness.

Forever destined to be filed under neoclassical, Memoryhouse has any number of other loose touchstones from both the past and present that move this work far beyond the convenience of such simple categorisation. ‘Laika’s Journey’ is a brief interlude that echoes the transitory listening experience that is Brian Eno’s earlier ambient releases; the orchestral sweep of ‘Sarajevo’ conjoins post-classicism with the operatic; and with its distant burble of electronica and suppressed vinyl crackle, in ‘Untitled (Figures)’ there is a vague nod towards Richter’s earlier collaboration with Roni Size and his drum and bass collective Reprazent. The spatial awareness and delicate melody that Richter then reveals in the record’s magnificent centrepiece ‘Arbenita (11 Years)’ is redolent of Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel where Leonard’s plaintive soprano does not need the encumbrance of words to accurately convey the true meaning of grief; bringing to mind the supreme melancholy that is Spiritualized’s instrumental version of ‘Broken Heart’, ‘Landscape With Figures’ is another similarly evocative composition where the listener is transported into some vast, empty Eastern European landscape with nothing but their own memories.

Memoryhouse is a modern masterpiece. It may draw heavily upon the strong influence of orchestral music but within the huge emotional range of its composition Richter is able to transpose the classical across a number of divergent styles to the present day. In taking that journey with him the listener slowly begins to recognize that given their respective potencies, power and anticipation of what can be made possible, perhaps the music of Memoryhouse and rock ‘n’ roll are not really quite so far apart after all.

Rating: ★★★★★

A deluxe double vinyl reissue of Memoryhouse will be released on 27th January 2014 through FatCat Records.

Memoryhouse live at the Barbican Hall, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra with Max Richter, conducted by André de Ridder is on 24th January 2014

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