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Pēteris VASKS (b. 1946)
Musica adventus (1995, arr. 1996) [27:16]
Viatore (2001) [16:35]
Concerto per corno inglese ed orchestra (1989)a [22:50]
Normunds Šnē (cor anglais)a
Sinfonietta Riga/Normunds Šnē

rec. Riga Recording Company, Studio A, 4-9 June 2007
WERGO WER67052 [67:03]
Experience Classicsonline


Several, now sadly deleted Conifer discs did much to help me gain a better idea of Vasks’ achievement. An earlier Wergo CD with some of his works for string orchestra (WER 6220 2) provided my first contact with his music. From then on I was "hooked". Now, here comes a new Wergo disc with more of his music including a somewhat lesser-known piece of his: Musica adventus. In fact, Musica adventus is an arrangement for string orchestra of the Third String Quartet of 1995 - once recorded by the Miami String Quartet on Conifer 75605 51334 2 (nla). The title of the version for string orchestra ("Advent Music") seems to be an afterthought since no particular programme is mentioned in the insert notes accompanying the quartet recording, although it might have been at the back of the composer’s mind when composing the work. The hymn-like character of some of the thematic material in the first movement and of its restatement at the height of the fourth movement might – to a certain extent – justifies or explains the title of the orchestral version. Anyway, this may not be of much importance in one’s appreciation of this vintage Vasks. The first movement functions as a prelude leading into the vigorous rustic dance of the second movement. The heart of the work, though, is the substantial third movement - a long lyrical and at times impassioned meditation. The fourth movement opens with an aleatoric passage evoking birdsong - a typical Vasks hallmark. The hymn-like nature of the main theme - reminiscent of that in the first movement - is interrupted twice by another dance-like episode, the repeat of which almost degenerates into panic. A final restatement of the chorale surrounded by chirrups brings the work to its appeased close. There is not much to choose between these versions of the work, although the scoring for full string orchestra adds volume and weight, particularly in the rustic dance of the second movement.

Some time ago (actually in September 2004), I reviewed another recording of Viatore. This was by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Katarina Andreasson who was also the soloist in the Violin Concerto (BIS-CD-1150). It was composed as a homage to Arvo Pärt, whose music is clearly to be heard in the course of the piece. A clear allusion to Pärt’s Cantus functions as a ritornello throughout the piece. Much else however is typical Vasks. It is a fine work that should be heard as often as Barber’s ubiquitous Adagio.

Normunds Šnē, who conducts Sinfonietta Riga in this programme, is also the soloist in Vasks’ Concerto per corno inglese ed orchestra. He also recorded that piece several years ago with the Riga Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Krišs Rusmanis (Conifer 75605 51236 2 nla). The lay-out is not unlike that of Musica adventus. The first and third movements (Elegy I and Elegy II) are slow and song-like in character whereas the second (Folk Music) again suggests a kind of rustic dance with a clear folk-like flavour. The fourth movement (Postlude) is an evocation of nature with some aleatoric passages suggesting birdsong and the rustling of wind and leaves. The music eventually dissolves into thin air. Vasks’ Cor Anglais Concerto is a splendid work and a worthy addition to the rather limited repertoire for cor anglais - still a rather neglected but beautiful instrument. There is not much to choose between the two recordings, the more so given that the soloist is the same. The earlier recording is in any event no longer available. It seems to me that Šnē the conductor tends to favour somewhat slower tempi both in this and in Viatore, while nevertheless keeping the music moving.

This is a magnificent and beautifully produced release with carefully prepared and committed performances of some of Vasks’ finest music. It never fails to convince thanks to its honesty and sincerity.

Hubert Culot


 


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