Gerard Hoffnung CDs
through MusicWeb for £13.50 postage
1. Revelation (2003) [15:07]
2. Nevertheless (1994) [27:41]
3. Buena Riga (Astor Piazzolla, Oskar Strock and Me) (2001)
4. The Last Song [4:48]
Gidon Kremer (violin:
2-4); Katia Skanavi (piano: 1, 2); Jānis šipkēvics
(alto: 1); Gabor Boldoczki (trumpet: 1)
rec. Radio Studios, Riga, Latvia, November 2005
Georgs Pelēcis is Latvian, musically educated in the Soviet
era in Moscow at the Tchaikovsky Conservatoire where his composition
teacher was Aram Khachaturian and his classmate was Gidon Kremer.
That in itself should be a clue that we are not looking at a
hard-nosed modernist. He is one of his country’s most
important composers and is a professor at the Latvian Academy
of Music. His compositional style has been described as “new
consonant music” but also with an ancestry stretching
back to the Renaissance and forward to minimalism. The most
significant difference to his Baltic counterpart Arvo Pärt
is the rhythmic drive that permeates all of his music that I
My first encounter with his music was listening to Australia’s
national classical music radio station whilst driving to work.
An obviously modern orchestral work featuring piano and violin
was playing and it was so, so beautiful. When I got to work,
I remained in the car, entranced and waiting for the presenter
to tell me what the music was. When he did, you will understand
that the information was less than useful, given the almost
total obscurity of the composer. Fortunately, the Internet solves
such problems, and I was able to get the name and CD details.
The work was Nevertheless, a concerto for violin, piano
and strings, the violinist was the work’s dedicatee Gidon
Kremer, and the disc entitled From My Home, a collection
of works by contemporary Baltic state composers, including Pärt,
Erkki-Sven Tüür and Peteris Vasks (Teldec 0630 146542).
I ordered the disc and found that what I had heard was the final
section of a work lasting almost thirty minutes. Some of the
other works on the disc were a little modernist for my liking,
but it didn’t matter. More than five years on, Nevertheless
remains one of the most played works in “my home”.
It would be one of my Desert Island discs.
Hoping to find more music from Pelēcis, I scoured the record
catalogues with minimal success. All I could find was one short
piano piece on BIS and another Gidon Kremer-led work, Meeting
with a friend on DG. Very frustrating, until of the blue
comes this disc - the first dedicated to solely to Pelēcis’s
music. As you can see, it features Kremer again, and Nevertheless
Revelation is described on a list
of Pelēcis compositions as being scored for counter-tenor,
flute, viola da gamba and harpsichord. In this recording, the
cast is contralto, trumpet, piano and strings, quite a difference.
I’m not sure whether to call it an extended song or a
cantata, but that should give you the general idea. It has three
sections: the Revelation of Saint John, Gloria in Excelsis Deo
and Hallelujah. It is an exhilarating and relentless piece,
predominantly up tempo with the strings providing nervy accompaniment
to the hard-worked soloists. At over 15 minutes, it must be
an exhausting exercise for the singer, who is singing at the
top end of her range for the majority of the time.
I have already extolled the pleasures of Nevertheless
without describing the music itself. I should say at this point
that nothing I have read explains the meaning of the title.
It has been performed as a ballet a number of times. Described
as a concerto, it is nevertheless (sorry, couldn’t resist
the pun!) a single movement without obvious sections, more a
gradual development of ideas throughout its 28 minutes. Perhaps
the most useful description is of a chamber work for violin
and piano with string chamber orchestra accompaniment, as it
is very much a conversation between the two solo instruments.
The piano begins alone in a minor key, melancholy and minimalist.
The violin and strings joins in, equally sadly and soon establishes
one of the key themes for the whole work, a bittersweet rising
and falling scale. The sad mood continues with the piano returning,
single notes over low strings. At 6:30, a change in mood begins:
the violin returns, now happy and buoyant, bringing to mind
The Lark Ascending. It doesn’t dispel the sadness
in the piano, and the next 10-12 minutes alternate between the
violin increasingly rapturous “swimming in happiness”
- the composer’s words - and the melancholic simplicity
of the piano. After an entreaty from the absolute top end of
the violin’s range, the piano begins to emerge from its
shell - the simple, single note refrain makes way for a gentle
melody and significantly, the violin is now able to sing in
duet for the first time with its partner. The violin and strings
begin a swaying dance in which the piano is initially hesitant
to join, but does so with increasing joy, singing the violin’s
theme and then one of its own. The climax is a wonderful rustic
dance in the spirit of Copland, that would melt the iciest of
hearts. I realise, reading back over what I have written, that
I have probably gone “over the top” in my description.
I hope you will forgive me: this is the most life-affirming
music I know.
After the emotional journey of Nevertheless, Buena
Riga provides a simpler ride for the listener. The clue
to it comes in the alternate title - Astor Piazzolla, Oskar
Strock and Me. Piazzolla’s name is well- known, Oskar
Strock’s less so. He was a Latvian composer known as the
“King of Tango”, referring to Slavic tango. Thus
Buena Riga is a tango, with the melodies of Argentina
and Latvia woven together by Pelēcis. This is his second
work to pay tribute to his countryman: I now find there is a
short work (All in the Past/Remembering Oskar Strock)
on a tango album of Kremer’s (Tracing Astor; Nonesuch
79601). The composer refers to it as a concerto, but like Nevertheless,
it is only one in the traditional sense, in that it has a substantial
solo part. It is wonderfully entertaining, with delicious melodies
and that tango rhythm.
The composer explains The last song as follows:
In Paradise everything happens for the first time, but nothing
happens for the last time. However, before entering Paradise,
every one of us experiences a particular feeling when we do
something for the last time: a last kiss, the last journey,
the last song …
It is the simplest and shortest work on the disc, and brings
the listener back to reality with a sad reflection on the end
of life. Initially, I thought it was an anticlimax after the
other works, but on further listening, I understand its placement.
Megadisc, based in Belgium, is not a well-known label - this
is the first of theirs in my collection - and having such a
prominent musician as Gidon Kremer record for them is a feather
in their cap. The performances and sound quality are very good,
and the sleeve notes, including the composer’s thoughts,
are informative, even if the words for Revelation are
As I said, I have waited a long time to hear more of Georgs
Pelēcis, and the wait, frustrating as it has been, was
worth it. So much contemporary classical music, to my way of
thinking, has taken a dead-end path, leaving behind what to
me are the key elements of music: melody, rhythm and harmony.
In the last decade or two, some composers have dared to swim
against the tide and write music which embraces those elements
without engendering a sense of dumbing it down for the masses.
Howard Blake in Britain is one, Graeme Koehne in Australia another,
and Georg Pelēcis also: more power to them, and more importantly,
David J Barker
see also Review
by Dominy Clements
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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