Three Worlds - Music from Woolf Works presents music from Woolf Works, an award-winning ballet triptych that reunited Max Richter with his Infra collaborator, choreographer Wayne McGregor. Like Infra, which paid tribute to T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land and Schubert's Winterreise, Woolf Works is an homage to three of Virginia Woolf's greatest novels: Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando, and The Waves. And, like his previous collaboration with McGregor, Three Worlds is a striking testament to how eloquently Richter translates the work of an artist working in another medium into compelling music. As he captures the depth and breadth of the worlds Woolf created with her writing, he reflects on his own body of work. Following an excerpt of "Craftsmanship," the only surviving recording of Woolf's voice (and another reminder of how deftly Richter combines spoken word and found sounds into his music), Three Worlds begins with Dalloway-inspired pieces. The interplay of strings and piano on "Meeting Again" is quintessentially Richter, the tension between structure and aching emotions echoing his breakthrough The Blue Notebooks; meanwhile, the flowing sweetness of "In the Garden" is as imbued with poignant details as the novel that inspired it. Later, "War Anthem" evokes the novel's tragic World War I veteran Septimus Smith with its distant -- but still ominous -- drums. Richter's flair for incorporating electronics into his music comes to the fore on the Orlando portion of Three Worlds, arguably the album's most exciting stretch. He echoes the daring, unexpected life of the novel's gender-swapping protagonist with short, brisk pieces that move with too much purpose to be merely whimsical: "Modular Astronomy" sounds like it's streaking through time and space, while the arpeggios on "The Genesis of Poetry" trace clearly defined arcs. The Orlando pieces also show off Richter's impressive range, spanning the echoing drones of "Morphology" and the elegantly futuristic mesh of electronics and strings on "The Explorers." This part of Three Worlds could easily be an album in its own right, something that could also be said of its final section, The Waves. Prefaced by a reading of Woolf's suicide note by Gillian Anderson, "Tuesday" closes the album with slowly unfolding strings, brass, and vocals that are somehow unsettling in their steadiness, mirroring the concept of shared consciousness in the novel. While the album's finale may lose something without the ballet's visuals, it's still impressive. Coming after the epic length and ambition of Sleep, Three Worlds could seem like a more minor work, but in its own right, it's another triumphant reminder of Richter's brilliance as a translator and creator. ~ Heather Phares
Pitchfork (Website) - "[A] slightly truncated version of Richter's score proves something he has been talking about quite a bit in the later years of his career: that his work is unified by an obsession with storytelling."