Max Richter embarks on many scoring projects -- most prominently, his music for the award-winning Israeli film Waltz with Bashir -- and it’s easy to hear why: albums such as The Blue Notebooks and Memoryhouse feel like, as the cliché about instrumental music goes, soundtracks for films that haven’t been made yet (though a piece from The Blue Notebooks was even used in the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island). Like Bashir, an animated documentary about the 1982 Lebanon war, Infra is another high-concept project, a ballet inspired by T.S. Eliot's classic poem of yearning and regret, The Waste Land. In turn, Richter's score, which was originally 25 minutes but is expanded to 32 here, was influenced by Schubert's Winterreise. Even in its longer form, many of Infra's pieces are brief, recalling the brilliant miniatures of Richter's ringtone album 24 Postcards in Full Colour. Infra's palette is classic Richter, blending piano, brass, and a string quartet with electronic textures that span luminous washes to ghostly static that lends an alien quality, almost as if the listener is tuning into the score’s frequencies. Like The Waste Land, this music is subtle, its open-ended glimpses adding to its poignancy. Richter shows once again that he’s a master of conveying the maximum amount of emotions with the minimum amount of music: “Journey 4”'s melody teeters between despair and reassurance with almost every note. Despite -- or perhaps because of -- Infra's subtlety, it offers a wide-open backdrop for dancing. “Infra 8”'s tender swirls and “Infra 2”'s complementary arcs of strings and electronics suggest steps that flow or scuttle like a pair of ragged claws. Whether Richter explores abstract drones as on “Journey 3,” reminds listeners of what a sensitive player he is on piano-driven pieces such as “Journey 1” and “Infra 3,” or unites the work’s elements on major pieces like “Infra 5” and “Infra 7,” he does so with a masterful restraint that gives Infra's slate-gray moods maximum impact. This may be the most subdued of Richter's Fat Cat releases, but every nuance shows the care with which he crafts all of his music.
by Heather Phares