On the opening night of the Wales Millennium Centre’s Voice festival, a performance of Max Richter‘s Voices had its own logic. But the real meaning of this piece is like a meditation on 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, the inalienable rights of every individual to liberty, justice and peace. Richter uses Eleanor Roosevelt’s voice to begin the ensemble of the work, passages from the Declaration were then delivered in litany by eloquent narrator Imtiaz Dharker, with short excerpts recorded by various voices and languages from around the world emerging. in the form of whispered or urgently chanted sounds from all over the auditorium, as if he were joining his hands to unite the musical fabric.
At a time when democracy appears to be challenged on a daily basis, to remember the powerful resonance of the declaration was to question one’s aspirations and idealism and, simultaneously, to realize that these ideals are still betrayed. Like the wordless song of the ethereal solo soprano Grace Davidson and a chorus of female voices seemed to resound in lamentation and reflect on what was heard, hope and horror came in waves.
With Richter himself playing the keyboard and the long piano solos, and with Robert ziegler drive Sinfonia Cymru – their string ensemble giving a more intimate and scaled-down version of the original which premiered last year at the Barbican in London – the instrumentation favoring cellos and double basses had the effect of a deeply ingrained sound. The electronic tape and the vocals gave another general dynamism.
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 provide a musical space in which to reconnect with the fundamental principles of declaration: as Husband SamuelsenThe last burning violin solo became an uplifting message, here, indeed, was an urgent exhortation to act for the ultimate good of mankind.