City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

EIF 2015: Max Richter – Recomposed/Memoryhouse, Edinburgh Playhouse, Review

By Euan Andrews - Posted on 26 August 2015

Max Richter
Show details
Max Richter - electronics, keyboards. Daniel Hope - violin. Grace Davidson - soprano. BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Conductor - Andre de Ridder.

A black-clad man sits centre stage playing harpsichord while the sound of wind and rain clawing at unseen windows murmurs somewhere in the distance. Tonight, Edinburgh Playhouse feels like a blood-red crucible in which Europe's recent past and possible futures are contained. It makes a perfect environmental setting, this grand old theatre filled with ghosts and shadows, for tonight's performance of Max Richter's 2002 piece Memoryhouse, only the second time this early work of the once Edinburgh-based composer has ever been performed.

Upon its initial release thirteen years ago, Memoryhouse was greeted with what seems like quite astonishing indifference from the critical art world. It pretty much vanished without trace, a galling fate for such a clearly personal work as Richter married his own identity with the turbulent political patterns moving across the European continent. It must feel hugely satisfying for Richter, now well established as a composer and music producer, to revisit this epic hour-long piece with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in grand cahoots.

First, however, is possibly the big draw for much of tonight's eager audience; Richter's remade and remodelled version of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. It's a totemic piece of classical music so well-known and universally renowned yet in definite need of rescuing from hotel lobbies and smoothly upholstered restaurants. Viennese based violinist Daniel Hope is a clear star draw for parts of the audience (particularly the overexcited lady seated behind me screaming “DANNY!!!” during the final uproarious applause) and the music is performed with zesty vigour, at times feeling surprisingly spiky and rough-hewn as if Richter were determined to return this music to its original base state. Well-worn musical passages loop back upon themselves while interludes of ambient wash hiss and spray like delicate sea mists.

The sheer joyousness of The Four Seasons Recomposed is in sharp contrast to Memoryhouse. This is a long, solemn piece as Richter is joined by the full SSO arsenal in accompaniment to his own keyboard and electronic peregrinations. It is as if the romantic dream of Europe past has been swiftly juxtaposed with the decaying grandeur of Europe's reality. Disembodied voices occasionally break out across the music, the sound of people at play and seething weather fronts surging uncontrollably pour out across the theatre as if from an open wound.

Much of Memoryhouse's original conception came from then recent events in Sarajevo, yet it is all too easy to hear inside the piece current spates of violence and mass upheavals haunting the continent. In revisiting Memoryhouse, Richter places himself, and every person listening, right at the heart of Europe, that most pampered, troubled and self-obsessed of continents. The sparkle and gaiety of The Four Seasons has been replaced by a brooding, unswerving gaze through a dark lens.

Performance 24 August 2015.