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The Blue Notebooks

Max Richter
The Blue Notebooks
(Fat Cat)

When I told a friend of mine how much I enjoyed this disc, he wondered how I could praise it so highly when there's already a world of classical music out there that I haven't heard. At the time, I didn't really have a response other than that I really enjoyed it, and really that's about what it comes down to. In my days, I've listened to a lot of classical music in trying to find what I enjoy. On occasion I like my Mahler and Wagner and Debussy and Beethoven and Mozart and even a little Vivaldi and others. However, my most listened-to classical piece is the 3rd Symphony by Henryk Gorecki. It's a piece that would be considered modern by most, yet it moves me like no other piece of classical music I've heard, and that's what it comes down to.

Technically, Richter can't simply be lumped into the classical category, because his album incorporates electronics, found sounds, and spoken word excerts as well. When I read about it some time ago, I thought the idea that there would be readings by actress Tilda Swinton mingled in sounded a bit pretentious, but he pulls it off quite well. A majority of the music on the release is comprised of a string quintet and piano, and it's that heart-wrenching work that really makes the album stand out. In fact, the second track of "On The Nature Of Daylight" might be the most moving on the disc (and in fact one of the more beautiful tracks that I've heard all year) as swells of strings ebb and flow while plainative violin melodies weep.

"Horizon Variations" finds Richter playing a touching solo piano piece while the album veers even more on "Shadow Journal," an 8-minute epic that starts out with readings by Swinton subtlely drifting over the sounds of a typewriter before a violin melody weaves over an electronic loop. Eventually, a filtered harp loop sweeps in and a low electronic rumble sets the whole thing in motion. "Iconography" sends a ghostly choir over almost exuberant organs while "The Trees" again brings back the string quintet alongside the piano for a lovely comedown. While the album mainly moves with a melancholic air, it's far from being depressing. Sometimes fragile, and often beautiful, The Blue Notebooks is one of the more stunning pieces of music that I've heard this year.

Rating: 8.5