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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Arturs MASKATS (b.1957)
Lacrimosa for choir, strings and organ (1995) [7.04]
Concerto Grosso for violin, cello, strings and percussion (1996) [21.39]
Three Poems by Paul Verlaine: La lune blanche; Impression fausse; Ce sont choses crépusculaires (1996) [13.09]
Cello Concerto (1992) [17.12]
Salve Regina for mezzo, cello and strings (1996) [8.11]
Latvian Radio Choir (Lacrimosa, Verlaine)
Aivars Kalējs (organ) (Lacrimosa)
Sandis Šteinbergs (violin) (Concerto Grosso)
Reinis Birzniecks (cello) (Concerto Grosso; Verlaine; Concerto)
Edgars Saksons (percussion) (Concerto Grosso)
Normunds Šnē (oboe) (Verlaine)
Antra Bigača (mz) (Salve)
Agnese Rugēvica (cello) (Salve)
Riga Chamber Players/ Normunds Šnē (except Lacrimosa where conductor is Sigvards Kļava)
rec. Aug 2000, Riga Cathedral; Reformation Church, Latvia. DDD
BIS BIS-CD-1146 [69.07]

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The music of the Baltic states continues to fascinate me hence my decision to review this very recently arrived disc.

Maskats, a Latvian, began composing while at school. His 1980s were spent in the Daile Theatre - a hard apprenticeship during which he evolved his own principles for composition. These were built on his tuition with Valentins Utkins at the Latvian Academy of Music. He is currently artistic director of the Latvian National Opera. Despite his theatrical accent he is strongly drawn to the symphony. His first was written in 2000 and he cherishes hopes of writing at least four. The Salve Regina, Verlaine poems and his music for the stage adaptation of that wonderful novel of jealousy and revenge Thérèse Raquin won for him the Latvian National Music prize in 1996. Intriguingly Maskats sees himself in the same landscape as Pärt, Vasks and Kancheli. His articles of faith include a statement that music must first of all be beautiful. Maskats is also drawn to dance. He comments that the nineteenth century and the first half of the last century had the waltz as their dance hallmark. Maskats sees the tango as the mark of life in the second half of the last century into the current century. The Tango is 'life itself'.

The Maskats works on this CD are all from the 1990s. Three of the five involve the human voice. Two of these include the chamber ensemble. Both the Lacrimosa and the Salve Regina are quite short. The latter is for a powerful mezzo voice, cello and chamber orchestra.

The Lacrimosa was written to mark the tragedy that was the sinking of the ferry 'Estonia' in 1994. More than 800 lives were lost. Ethereal female voices enter with a palpable sense of cavernous space and distance around them. There is a rasping murmur of strings and moments of awesomely gothic melodrama for both choir and organ. Other episodes include the infinitely tender comfort of the singing at 2.53, an underpinning ostinato like that in Sibelius's Luonnotar and a Terhenniemi-like mystery (compare Klami's Kalevala Suite). These are evanescent impressions of a work that instantly tightens its grip on the listener. My own notes were made before I read the booklet but I quote from them in relation to the closing moments of this piece: 'the exhaustion borne of grief.'

The Salve Regina sounds like lyrical late Tippett in the solo vocal line. The model is perhaps the baroque cantata - a Bach cantabile fused with a surgingly melodic energy. The cello speaks for suffering; the voice as balm. This piece was originally conceived for Reinis Berzieks' cello with strings. Maskats then came across the ancient Salve Regina text which seemed a contrasting gemini to the cello's admonitory grieving.

With a title like Concerto Grosso I am bound to think back to the Schnittke of the early 1980s ... and there are some echoes! Maskats' work is in five movements of which two are buttressing adagios. The work’s origins are drawn from visits to the Armenian town of Dilijan in which both Shostakovich and Britten gained inspiration. The sub-title is Return to Dilijan, itself a variant on the title of the Albert Camus poem, Return to Tipaz. The two adagios use a slowly insistent theme for solo violin. This theme is high and caustic. It conveys the sense of a slow turning in the wind and then an unwinding; mesmerisingly palindromic like a similar device in the slow central section of Peter Racine Fricker's Vision of Judgement. There are neo-baroque episodes, moments that sound like Vivaldi on steroids, spiritual bell sounds, lonely acidic violin and cello solos, grinding romantic thunder and a vertiginous ascent into stratospheric and valedictory silence.

While the notes claim a French approach, with one exception, I did not hear this and certainly not in Maskats' setting of Verlaine. Here the writing for the choir takes us into the ether. The humanising eminence is the grainy sorrow-sweetness of Normunds Šnē's oboe solo which appears constantly throughout this most enchanting of works. There are moments where the inspiration of Šnē, Maskats and the choir have us wondering at the seamless transition from oboe to choir and back. There is brilliance in the middle poem but the flanking sections are ecstatic-reflective in a way that recalls Debussy's Charles d'Orleans choral settings.

The five movement Cello Concerto is an allusive work. Here the allusions are to the two cello concertos of Jānis Mediņš and to Marija Mediņa (the daughter of Jēkabs Mediņš and the niece of Jānis). The soloist here premiered this work and also played the cello at Marija's request during her last days. The concerto was written six months after her death. Berzieks premiered the piece in France in 1992. The work is deeply serious, with a cello part that is cantorial, often hoarse with sorrow, lugubrious and hieratic. This is a potently sincere piece the effect of which is amplified by its relative conciseness. Those who enjoy the named works of Kancheli (on ECM) and parts of the Sallinen Cello Concerto will find this well worth hearing.

I am grateful to conductor and oboist Normunds Šnē for making this review copy available to me. This approach came about as a result of my reviews of CDs of the music of Ugis Praulins.

This being a Bis production the notes are in English, Latvian, German and French although the translations of the sung texts are only into English. Is English taught as the prime second subject in Latvia, I wonder.

The experience of Maskats music is res ipsa loquitur evidence of an entanglement with the expression of beauty. This is not honey-choked commercialism but certainly stands at the opposite pole from the sollipsistic universe of academic avant-garde cliques. Valuable and sincere music with the power to speak directly.


Rob Barnett

Maskats music is res ipsa loquitur evidence of an entanglement with the expression of beauty. ... see Full Review



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