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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Enquiries to Pēteris VASKS

peterisv@inbox.lv

Pēteris VASKS (b.1919)
Piano Quartet (2001) [35.40]
Tālivaldis ĶENIŅŠ (b.1943)

Piano Quartet No. 1 (1958) [18.59]
RIX Piano Quartet (Sandis Šteinbergs, Ilze Kļava (violins); Reinis Berzieks (cello); Jānis Maļeckis, piano)
rec. Latvian radio studio, Dec. 2001, DDD
ULMA-123 [54.40]


Pēteris Vasks was born in Aizpute in Latvia. He studied with Valentins Utkins (1974-78). His 'articles of faith' (or a portion of them) are framed in the excellent liner notes where he says: "Speaking Latvian in one's music might be the most important and essential message we should carry to the world ... telling everything in our language ... even if people had no contact with Latvian music - if they see some peculiar colour, some flavour that is not to be found anywhere else we have been on the right track - we have been communicating in Latvian." In a world increasingly US English dominant across every medium we should value such national voices which break the bonds of an international conformity. Enhanced communications are said to create a heaving cauldron of cultural voices whether musical or linguistic. The tendency is for the predatory genes of World-English to dilute and render bland what is distinctive and different rather than supporting a diverse culture. In Vasks’ case his voice speaks for a world of 'otherness' which can yet draw us back from the vortex of a boring planetary conformity.

Vasks instantly ushers us into his primal world unspoilt by the tired or the vile or the crass. His music is unfailingly melodic, with strong clean folk ‘strata’, viscerally rhythmic, impetuously explosive. This much is very clear from his Piano Quartet which migrates through passages which are familiar if we know Sibelius 6, Holst's Four Medieval Songs, Stravinsky’s Petrushka and, yes, Vivaldi's Four Seasons. At the close of the Danze movement and the start of Quasi una passacaglia Vasks' free immersion in stimulatingly dissonant music suggests some influence from Schnittke (interestingly Vasks has been composer in residence at Gidon Kremer's Lockenhaus Festival - Kremer being a long-time supporter of Schnittke’s music). The soloistic cello and violin lines in Canti drammatici each recall the grimmer passages in the Second Cello Concertos of Schnittke and Kabalevsky. Tender yet vibrant lyrical statements also surface like the long melody taken by the violin in Canto principiale (tr.5 2.30). This floats blessedly free accompanied by the benediction of the piano. Its long-breathed quality recalls the melodic stamina of John Foulds' rather 'modern' cello sonata (1905). The Canto rises with healing light like a seraphic fusion between Barber's Adagio and Pettersson's Seventh Symphony. The Postludio looks out on a seared landscape - bleak by comparison with the Canto. A spiritual tenderness pervades the Postludio finale from 2.02 onwards.

The big piano quartet is in six movements: Preludio, Danze, Canti Drammatici, Quasi una passacaglia, Canto principiale, Postludio.

 

Ķeniņš' First Piano Quartet, written 43 years before the Vasks work, is lyrical without recourse to the excoriating extremes of the Vasks work. There is a chilly vitality in Ķeniņš’ writing. His use of dissonance is not as distant as Vasks' but it is there, dusted over piano writing that sometimes sounds like Nights in the Gardens of Toronto or Liepāja. The string writing is denser and more sombre than that of Vasks - though extremely appealing as in the concentrated sorrowing solo violin song that surges out at 5.01 in the long first movement moderato e espressivo. Ķeniņš creates a lichen-hung effect in the Largo sostenuto - coasting very close to the Frank Bridge Second Piano Trio. Only in the glittering life of the Vivace e marcato finale does Shostakovich seem briefly to raise his head … scorching and unmistakable. This work was first performed in its year of composition at the American Latvian Song festival.

Ķeniņš was born in Liepāja, Latvia and studied at the Latvian Conservatory during the Second World War. He worked with Messiaen and Tony Aubin (1945-51) in Paris then went to Canada where he held professorships at the Toronto University (1952-84). He has eight symphonies to his name as well as twelve concertos and much chamber and vocal music.

Two Latvian piano quartets. One brilliant but bearing the sombre cargo of the last century; the other alive with Latvian folk elements and rhythmic vitality.

Rob Barnett

 



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