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Latvian Music Series - Volume One
Romualds JERMAKS (b. 1931) Five Latvian Folk Songs (for one piano/four hands) [11.15]
Talivaldis KENNIS (b. 1919) Sonata for Two Pianos [18.06]
Imants MEZARAUPS (b. 1958) Deux Postludes après Chopin (for one piano/four hands) [3.53]
Selga MENCE (b. 1953) Songs for Two Pianos (2000?) [17.53]
Imants ZEMZARIS (b. 1951) Three Sisters Fantasy for Two Pianos (1975) [9.23]
Dace APERANS (b. 1953) Haiku for Two Pianos [7.40]
Andris VECUMNIEKS (b. 1964)
Quasi Campanella (paraphrase of an etude by N. Paganini – F. Liszt) [5.33]
Paraphrase after J.P. Rameau’s Two Hens (for one piano/four hands) [6.11]
Antra and Normunds Viksne (piano duo) No details of recording venue or dates
ANGELOK 1 (2003) CD 7701 [79.59]

More Information about Antra and Normunds Viksne:

1 May 2004 saw Latvia join the enlarged European Union and so it’s right that we should listen to music from this recently ‘rediscovered’ nation (having been homogenised as part of the Soviet Union for most of the 20th century). Of course issues of national identity are far from straightforward: Mezaraups was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Aperans in Winnipeg, Canada. And we cannot draw any conclusions about a nation’s music from one disc but, on the evidence of this marvellous CD, Latvians love ‘bashing’ the extremes of the piano!

The tone is set with Jermaks’ Five Latvian Folk Songs with titles that wouldn’t go amiss if composed by Benjamin Britten; for example ‘What Resounds, What Rattles?’ and ‘When Will You Return, Brother?’. The opening song is extremely powerful and the second’s textures are almost orchestral such is the torrent of notes. Try the third: I can’t believe there’s only one piano being played.

Kenins’ Sonata reminds me of Prokofiev with its fiery ostinato in the first movement. The second exploits the extremes of the piano’s register, areas often ‘neglected’ by composers and the excellent recording captures both the richness of the bass and the percussive treble. Although it has some marvellous moments, the sonata does slightly outstay its welcome. On the other hand, it’s impossible for Mezaraups’ miniatures to pall given their brevity; they are slight and moody.

Mence’s songs are particularly effective. The first, ‘Winter Stars’, effectively uses the high register signifying the coldness of the night air. Such impressionism is complemented by a dramatic interplay between the pianos creating an echo effect and culminating in a thrilling ‘wall of sound’ that would even impress Phil Spector. The second song uses some wonderful discords, exploiting the brooding sonority of the lower registers. The third I assume is using a prepared piano (the CD’s notes are of little help mostly giving biographical detail) creating some extraordinary cacophonies (in the nicest sense of the word), once again through the interplay between pianists. The concluding song, is affirmative in nature and uses Steve Reich-like layers of repetitive sound.

The following Three Sisters Fantasy, by Zemzaris, has a tough act to follow and lacks character to make enough impression; though being divorced from the Chekhov play probably doesn’t help. Aperans’ Haiku are suitably Debussy-like in nature, the second using the apparently characteristic extremes of register.

Vecumnieks’ concluding pieces are ideal ‘encores’. The Quasi Campanella is at once charming and witty and moves from the extreme heights of the piano to a demented Lisztian conclusion. And his take on Rameau welds together the Baroque and Mack Sennett! Fabulously mad and a marvellous finale to a fascinating disc.

If your tastes run to include the occasionally ‘barking’ then go for this CD. I have no idea if they’re all as mad and tempestuous as this in Latvia; if they are then they’re a welcome edition to the Union. Everything is brilliantly played by the, presumably, wife and husband team Antra and Normunds Viksne.

Nick Lacey

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