> Arturs MASKATS [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Arturs MASKATS (b 1957)
Lacrimosa (1995)
Concerto Grosso (1996)
Three Poems by Paul Verlaine (1996)
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (1992)
Salve Regina (1996)
Latvian Radio Choir, Riga Chamber Players, Aivars Kalejs /Sigvards Klava, conductor (Lacrimosa)
Sandis Šteinbergs, violin, Reinis Birznieks, cello, Edgars Saksons, percussion, Riga Chamber Players/ Normunds Šne, conductor (Concerto Grosso)
Latvian Radio Choir, Normunds Šne, oboe, Reinis Birznieks, cello
Reinis Birznieks, cello, Riga Chamber Players/ Normunds Šne, conductor
Antra Bigaca, mezzo-soprano, Agnese Rugevica, cello, Riga Chamber Players/ Normunds Šne, conductor
Recorded August 2000 Reformation Church, Riga except Lacrimosa, recorded Riga Cathedral
BIS CD 1146 [69.07]

Arturs Maskats studied at the Latvian Academy of Music, graduating in 1982 when he was twenty-five. He spent the following sixteen years as music director of the Daile theatre, composing music for over ninety theatrical productions throughout his native country. He is now artistic director of the Latvian National Opera and harbours two dreams – to write a series of symphonies ("Symphonies are an impractical genre but one should write at least four") and to investigate the tango. I welcome the former heartily but hope he can be dissuaded from the latter – the world is already suffering a pandemic of Piazzolla inspired tangos.

If Vasks is Latvia’s most internationally known composer Maskats is clearly imbued with something of the same inwardness of feeling and the technical means by which to convey it. On this BIS disc, intelligent programming and production as ever from this company, choral works begin and close with a centerpiece vocal ensemble work around which sit two big orchestral pieces. Lacrimosa was premiered on the first anniversary of the sinking of the ferry Estonia, with eight hundred lives lost. Opening with the choir almost inaudible it gains in amplitude throughout its seven-minute length, ostinato violins and an increasingly strident and interjectory organ adding their own discerning moments. This leads to a clash of tonalities in the choir, produced by the increasingly fractious and turbulent writing, before a reconciled peace slowly develops – a memorial piece of depth and one that abjures simplicities. The five movement, classically based Concerto grosso of 1996 opens with the obscure plink of the percussion and then with Pärt like stasis but soon violin, percussion and then cello become heated before a return to the initial percussion notes and a musing violin. Lest this should conjure up images of Holy Minimalism the composer I’m most reminded of in the strong second movement allegro is none other than Brahms. There is a strongly string based affinity with the Double Concerto in this Concerto grosso and one that co-exists with moments of neo-classicism. A spectral percussion (vibraharp?) haunts the slow movement over ominous pizzicati – some beautiful string writing and playing here - whilst the fourth movement allegro is one of the most convincing of all. There is a strong sense of romantic dialogue here and a growing ferment over increasingly acerbic orchestral background support – in the foreground the cello holds onto a slithery harmony and the percussion whip cracks the movement onwards. The cadenza here is an energetic and taxing late romantic, Brahmsian affair. The last movement – an adagio – returns cyclically to the material of the opening one, ending the piece with a musing somewhat enigmatic profile. Don’t expect Tippett’s Corelli Variations. This is a work that takes the bones of classical structure and clothes them with a greater weight of romantic sensibility than is perhaps wise but as Maskats himself says "do not be afraid of these things."

The Cello Concerto was premiered in France in 1992, the year of its composition, and was inspired by the daughter of the Latvian composer Jekabs Medinš. It’s elegiac in feeling, lasting seventeen minutes, the five movements running seamlessly together. Maskats has used elements or motifs from two of Medinš’s own cello concertos and woven them into the syntax of his own work which is meditative without being portentous. Whilst not initially compelling in thematic material it has a kind of lateral depth that works on its own terms. The Verlaine songs for choir, oboe and cello are well-crafted affairs. The first has curling and yearning cello and oboe; the choir wittily intones Debout, paresseux! (Get up, lazy ones) in the second whilst the third is crepuscular with oboe and cello now coiled around each other. The disc is completed by the Salve Regina, a predominately penitential setting, with Antra Bigaca the eloquent mezzo.

Maskats is another strong voice in the Latvian musical landscape. An avowed admirer of Vasks he is clearly also an absorber of late Romanticism. Whilst he never puts it to as vividly creative a use as, say, Arne Nordheim, this lends Maskats an immediacy that is frequently affecting. Sound and documentation are all one has now come to expect from BIS. Recommended.

Jonathan Woolf

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