Max Richter has won acclaim for his recomposed Four Seasons and, more recently, his eight-hour Sleep. His scores are less well known, yet they are just as important and reflect his longstanding fascination with narrative and emotion. These qualities provoked criticism of his score for Woolf Works – Wayne McGregor’s 2015 ballet – as being too cinematic, emotional and suggestive. What was perceived as a weakness in the context of live contemporary ballet, however, contributes to the strength of this shorter variation of the original.
The title refers to Richter’s attempt to create three distinct musical worlds based on three Virginia Woolf novels – Mrs Dalloway, Orlando, and The Waves. It opens with a rare 1937 recording of Woolf herself as she reflects on the nature of words and language, and continues into a set of pleasingly minimalist pieces for Mrs Dalloway. Orlando sees Richter exploring and constructing rich, absorbing electronic soundscapes.
Three Worlds ends poignantly as the actor Gillian Anderson reads Woolf’s 1941 suicide letter, while the finale, The Waves, expands into a sprawling, 21-minute work combining the most effective of Richter’s signature compositional techniques for voice, strings, piano, and electronics. Three Worlds has an ambitious goal, and perhaps one calling for more extensive treatment than a one-hour recording, yet Richter largely succeeds here in a satisfying, if ultimately tragic, trilogy of works.