On record: Max Richter – Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works (Deutsche Grammophon)



For his follow-up to the extraordinarily successful SLEEP, Max Richter turns his attentions to the works of Virginia Woolf. He has been working on a Royal Ballet production with Wayne McGregor, and this full length album documents his responses to Woolf’s novels.

The resultant soundtrack features Woolf’s own text, read by Sarah Sutcliffe, Gillian Anderson and the author herself, her only surviving recording, where she reads Craftsmanship to the eerie backing of Big Ben. Anderson reads her suicide note, a deeply felt letter to her husband to which Richter responds with the extended meditation Tuesday.

What’s the music like?

Richter shows his versatility as a composer throughout this album, drawing on his legacy as an electronic composer but showing also how he continues to effectively exploit analogue instruments.

The music for Mrs Dalloway is incredibly intimate and has a small-scale setting to go with it. Utterances like Words and In the garden are simplicity itself and are subtly scored, while War anthem features a resonant cello, beautifully played by Hila Karni, that soars in the spirit of John Tavener.

Orlando contains a varied selection of shorter pieces. Morphology has a lovely, open texture, and like a few of the numbers here it would have been nice for the music to have longer to open out and present itself fully. Perhaps because of the constraints of the director, some of Richter’s music adopts more of a sketch form here.

That is emphatically not the case for the final, heartrending Tuesday, Richter’s response to the suicide note that makes up the whole of the Waves section. It is a powerful meditation, deliberately written to connect with Zen Buddhism, and comes close to Hans Zimmer’s music for Interstellar in mood. Richter’s musical development is subtle, the elegiac motif generating a deep and lasting power that leads to a final, exhausted coda.

The Waves, Woolf Works from Ravi Deepres on Vimeo.

Does it all work?

Mostly, and it presents Richter as a multifaceted composer who can work on the small scale of chamber music but also a larger orchestral stage. Tuesday is a really impressive piece of work, showing how he can command the attention of an audience over a longer structure – which SLEEP did of course, but in a very different way!

The music for Mrs Dalloway is very simple – too much at times – but at its best is also deeply effective. The sensitive use of speech around the music is effective.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Not always the cheeriest album, Three Worlds does nonetheless become both a restful and emotionally powerful piece of meditation, a heartfelt response to the works of one of Britain’s finest 20th century novelists.

Ben Hogwood

Listen on Spotify

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.