Max Richter: From Sleep

Max Richter (piano, organ, electronics); Grace Davidson (soprano); American Contemporary Music Ensemble

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Richter
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Max Richter: From Sleep
WORKS: From Sleep
PERFORMER: Max Richter (piano, organ, electronics); Grace Davidson (soprano); American Contemporary Music Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: 479 5257

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It’s easy to hear how Max Richter’s From Sleep has topped the classical album charts in recent weeks: billed as a lullaby for our frenetic age, it feeds in generous portions the modern-day appetite for music to relax to. In its original incarnation, the piece, scored for piano, strings, electronics and wordless vocals, is eight hours long, and listeners at its premiere at the Wellcome Collection, London, last month were given mattresses, not chairs. This CD, of seven excerpts lasting one hour, is intended less for dozing to, than for active listening – though some may still find it conducive to a nap.

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From the repeating melancholic piano chords and tolling bell-like tones of the opening Dream 3, to the gently cascading suspensions of Space 11, Richter’s ambient sounds make minimal demands – as if Pärt’s tintinnabuli style had been remixed for the spa. Elsewhere, such as in Dream 13, where the deep sighing cello sounds like slow exhalations, the circular, interlocking patterns vividly suggest the physical and mental activity of sleep itself – Richter apparently consulted a neuroscientist as part of his research. Its titles recall the Dreams of 1960s minimalist La Monte Young, and the durations of its live performance suggest Cage, yet there is little here – from the plainchant-meets-TV-thriller vocals of Path 5 to their return on keyboard in Path 19 – that suggests the anarchic experimentalism of that era. The sound, deep and expansive in Space 21, is as polished throughout as the performance, though some may find the chapel acoustic stifling, like being wrapped tightly in a duvet with no means of escape. Nick Shave