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Max Richter: Infra

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For a self-described “post-classical” composer who’s taken cues from such heady source material as Kafka’s Blue Octavo Notebooks and Haruki Murakami, many of Max Richter’s best compositions are appealingly middlebrow pieces for piano or string quartet—dramatic enough to drive home a scene in Shutter Island, but more restrained than Richter’s most obvious antecedents, Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Infra is a palimpsest of a score commissioned by the Royal Ballet, fleshed out with Richter’s usual undulating, escalating violin and piano interludes. Coils of complex melody emerge from the same static-y short-wave radio wrappers that he employed on 24 Postcards In Full Color, but here, they feel like an attempt to avant-garde up tracks that, while lovely, are overly familiar and rarely arresting. “Infra 2” buoys up the album a bit, gently laying mournful strings down in a bed of ambient fuzz next to a high, fluttering tone that fades in and out with the insistence of a lighthouse beam. “Infra 5” makes the case for Richter’s burgeoning career as a film composer, with keening strings and the signature second wind of The Blue Notebooks’ “The Trees.” Ultimately, nothing here can compare to that emotionally taxing album, and it’s hard not to wish Infra indulged in a few more grand jetés instead of spending so much time going through the motions at the balance beam.