When UK composer Max Richter premiered Sleep in London, in 2015, the concert lasted all night—hardly a customary occurrence in the contemporary classical world. Stranger still, the audience dozed on cots. That’s because Sleep is designed to induce just that. It’s not just that the piece for piano and strings is soft, gentle, and reassuringly consonant, or that it lasts eight hours—long enough, in other words, to go ’til dawn. When writing, Richter consulted with sleep neuroscientist David Eagleman, folding cutting-edge research on slow-wave phases of sleep—states crucial to learning and memory—into the very shape of the piece. The slow tempo is intended to have a lulling effect, drawing listeners into drowsiness and holding them there. In the opening movements, the music’s repetitive nature and recurring themes are subtly hypnotic, assisting listeners in clearing weary minds; as the piece goes on, instrumental outlines are worn away, leading to a quasi-ambient fog. Richter, whose soundtrack credits include Ad Astra, Mary Queen of Scots, and television series like Black Mirror and The Leftovers, is known for his graceful, melancholy touch, and that’s certainly apparent here, particularly in passages like “Path 3,” featuring an almost liturgical melody from soprano Grace Davidson. Mastered in Spatial Audio in 2022, every moment of this album’s sublime beauty is heightened and intensified without, of course, ever taking away from its restorative central premise. And for listeners who don’t want to miss any of that, a companion album, From Sleep, excerpts the most striking movements in a comparatively brief, one-hour dosage—just the thing, perhaps, for a relaxing cup of tea in the morning.

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