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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Pēteris VASKS (b.1946)
Three Poems by Czesław Milosz (1994) [18.17]
Zemgale (1988) [12.53]
Māte saule (Mother sun) (1975) [5.25]
Madrigāls (1975) [3.44]
Litene (1993) [9.14]
Dona Nobis Pacem (1996) [14.43]
Latvian Radio Choir
Sigvards Kļava
Kaspars Putniņš
Aivars Kalējs (organ)
rec. May 2000, Riga Cathedral (Milosz; Dona); Reformation Church, Riga
BIS-CD-1145 [66.11]


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Vasks' three Milosz poems are set in English translation with much phrasal repetition. They are complex, tuneful and full of resourceful use of modernistic vocal techniques often employing melisma. It is only in the final song, the nostalgic and wondering Encounter, that the textures simplify and the writing glows with tenderness (like Stanford's Bluebird). That last song is a gem of a setting which ends with some of the finest softly sung stratospheric singing - weaving and interleaving. The work was written for the Hilliard Singers who premiered it in London in 1995. Paul Hilliard, I am pleased to say, continues his support of Vasks.

Similar effects, touching on the complexity of Penderecki's complex choral writing, appear in the 1988 Zemgale. The title is the name of the affluent region of Latvia that has borne the brunt of invaders' oppressions, pogroms and deportations over the centuries. The melodic line is always preserved and overall the writing is not that extreme only fitfully entering a distinctly chillier Ligeti-like world (tr. 4 5.10, 11.32). Several parts of this work go much further down the avant-garde route than anything in the Milosz Poems.

Māte saule (Mother Sun) and Madrigāls date from his student years. They are brief pieces which oscillate between Tormis-like folk-simplicity and the avant-garde tendencies of Zemgale.

Litene is a ballad for twelve-voice choir to a text by Uldis Bērzinš. Litene is a Latvian village, the scene of the arrest and execution and in some cases deportation to Siberia of hundreds of officers from the Latvian army. Aleatoric effects are introduced as well as the swelling and receding vocal 'focus-slides' that characterise some of the writing of Penderecki and Hovhaness. This joins a generation of war-grieving works such as Martinů's and Alan Bush's Lidice works, Frankel's Violin Concerto, Schoenberg's Survivor of Warsaw and Penderecki's Hiroshima Threnody.

Dona Nobis Pacem is here given in its version with organ rather than with chamber orchestra (you can hear the latter on Harmonia Mundi HMU 907311). It is a work that rediscovers simplicity of utterance and with much unison writing links in varying degrees with works by Kreek and Tormis. It has a strong spiritual grace that rises to nobility (5.03) and majesty (8.43) and does so through the repeated setting, over approaching a quarter of an hour, of the words of the title; nothing more. If you like Tavener then you must hear this.

Sincerity itself is not enough and Vasks sincerity is never in doubt. Not a specious moment or a miscalculated gesture will you find in his music. It is meditative, never dull, full of a steady undazzling light and if in some of these works he explores the outerlands of the avant-garde he keeps a firm hold on Ariadne's silken thread back to folk melody and rhythmic life.

Rob Barnett

 



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