Looking back on Max Richter’s career as a composer and his ability to make music centred around history, politics and literature, it’s easy to feel that he doesn’t really make albums about the everyday. Yet, new album Voices might be his most relatable and relevant album to date. It might take inspiration from another big subject, namely the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, but it also feels one of the most inclusive of his albums, shining light on various rights and freedoms that many may take for granted.
The album features readings of many of the articles contained within the Declaration set to Richter’s emotionally engaging orchestral score, showing that the combination of voice and orchestra that he has explored previously continues to serve him well. He explained more about the background to the piece in our recent interview but essentially Voices was born out of a feeling that the world was headed in a troubling direction and is Richter’s attempt to search for possible solutions, something he sees the Declaration offering. Voices is primarily a celebration of the Declaration and of the ability and aspiration of the human race to create it, although it’s tempered by a certain sadness at their inability to fully implement its contents.
American actress Kiki Layne is the main narrator on the album, but the other voices that drift in and out in the background in a variety of languages add a moving dimension. Layne’s readings are delivered in a clear, pinpoint and proud fashion. “All humans are born free and equal” begins her first reading. The piece then takes a journey across the Declaration, touching on other rights, before it ends movingly with “everyone has the right to education”, appropriate given Richter’s desire to focus on the piece’s potential to inform the future. Earlier, a child reading one of the rights among the crackly patchwork of other voices provides a similar stop-and-think moment.
The text might be the central focus but the music brings it alive. Richter chose to concentrate on the lower register of the orchestral spectrum, employing more cellos and double basses than usual but ultimately many of the hallmarks of his style are still recognisable; a focusing gravitas, sweeping passages, building strings and intimate piano. These instrumental sections are broken by the quiet drama of readings, and there are also times when wordless vocals float along, like birds flying through verdant woodland. The closing, searching track Mercy, offers a final chance for pause and reflection.
Like other moments in Richter’s history, Voices also feels like a celebration and validation of music itself – its capacity for profundity and to be a conduit for ideas. The world may be going through an unprecedented period of difficulty, but Voices is an album that will no doubt prove a worthy, supportive companion throughout.