Max Richter/Sinfonia Cymru review – quietly compelling music with an urgent message
On the opening night of the Wales Millennium Centre’s Festival of Voice, a performance of Max Richter’s Voices had its own logic. But the real significance of this piece is as a meditation on the United Nations’ 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, the inalienable rights of every individual to freedom, justice and peace. Richter uses Eleanor Roosevelt’s voice to begin the whole work, passages from the Declaration were then spoken in litany by the eloquent narrator Imtiaz Dharker, with briefer extracts recorded by different voices and languages from all over the globe emerging as urgently whispered or chanted sounds from around the auditorium, as though joining hands to unite the musical fabric.
At a time when democracy appears to be being undermined daily, to be reminded of the declaration’s powerful resonance was to wonder at its aspirations and idealism and, simultaneously, to be made conscious that these ideals are still being betrayed. As the wordless singing of the ethereal soprano soloist Grace Davidson and a chorus of female voices seemed to echo in lament and reflect on what has been heard, hope and horror came in waves.
With Richter himself playing keyboard and the extended piano solos, and with Robert Ziegler conducting Sinfonia Cymru – their string ensemble giving a more intimate, scaled-down version of the original that was premiered last year at London’s Barbican – the instrumentation favouring cellos and double basses had the effect of a deeply grounded sound. Electronic tape and voices gave a further overall vibrancy.
This music doesn’t go anywhere in the conventional sense, but there was something quietly compelling about its ebb and flow. Richter’s intention was to offer a musical space in which to connect again with the declaration’s fundamental principles: as Mari Samuelsen’s final searing violin solo became an uplifting message, here, indeed, was an urgent exhortation to act for the ultimate good of humanity.