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Pēteris VASKS (b. 1946)
Violin Concerto Tālā geisma (1996/7)
Musica dolorosa (1983)
Viatore (2001)
Swedish Chamber Orchestra; Katarina Andreasson, violin and leader
Recorded: Örebro Concert Hall, January 2003
BIS CD-1150 [59:18]

Vasks’ music is now seriously making its way into the repertoire and is reasonably well represented on disc.

This disc is further proof of the steadily growing popularity of his deeply felt, sincere and honest music. The present release is, however, a strange bit of programming. This has, of course, nothing to do either with the music or with the present performances. Quite the contrary, for the music is remarkably well served by all concerned and Katarina Andreasson, who has a personal relation to the music, plays superbly in the Violin Concerto and conducts well prepared and committed readings of these strongly expressive works. My remark is actually based on the observation that this is (at least) the fifth recording of Musica dolorosa and the fourth recording of the Violin Concerto. Vasks’ output is not extravagantly abundant, but some works are still either unrecorded so far or under-represented. This is the case for Musica adventus (1995/6, recorded once so far, if I am not mistaken) and Adagio (1995/6, unrecorded so far), to name but two works for strings that would have wonderfully fitted in this fine release. Thankfully enough, this Bis disc includes a world premiere recording, that of Viatore composed a few years ago.

Now, this is a queer bit of reviewing, I hear someone say. True, I should have begun by commenting on the music leaving my grumbles for the conclusion; but I hope that will not deter any of you from reading on, regardless of my reservations. Musica dolorosa was composed in 1983 as a Requiem for the composer’s sister, and is – deservedly so – one of Vasks’ best known and most frequently played works for strings. It is mostly elegiac, a sorrowful near-cousin to Barber’s ubiquitous Adagio, although there are some angry outbursts that dispel the sorrowful mood. It is in a traditional arch-form in which the song-like outer sections frame a more dramatic and tense central section. This is the piece’s emotional climax which dissolves in a short aleatoric passage (a typical Vasks hallmark, this). A short cadenza for solo cello introduces the final section; in fact a varied restatement of the opening material abruptly cut short.

The Violin Concerto Tālā geisma (“Distant Light”) is a quite substantial work composed for the newly founded KremerATA Baltica that recorded it in one of their first discs (Teldec 3984-22660-2). It is partly inspired by a reading of Kremer’s childhood memories. It opens hesitantly. A cantabile emerges out of the ambiguous opening and unfolds until it is interrupted by the first cadenza, followed by a new lyrical section that moves on with ever-increasing intensity that breaks loose in a dance-like section “that resembles Latvian folk music”. In his comments regarding a similar passage in his Fourth String Quartet, Vasks remarked that “in moments of deepest feeling or doubt, I am able to find some consolation and strength in the roots of my native country”. Similar folk-influenced allusions and stylised birdsong abound in Vasks’ music, as a counterpart to the hostile environment of the more aggressive sections. The easy-going nature of this folk-like episode is gradually submerged by the unstoppable energy of the second cadenza that leads into a varied restatement of the dance section. A new lyrical section of increasing intensity ends with the third climactic cadenza which literally explodes into a wild, aleatoric section, the real climax of the entire work. The almost unbearable intensity of this is unleashed in a violent Waltz rhythm again abruptly cut short. A brief pause signals the beginning of the long coda, itself a varied reprise of the cantabile section in which echoes of the waltz rhythm surface “as a reflection of distant memories”. The work ends in a mood of “bright sadness”, as the composer describes it.

As already mentioned, Viatore (“traveller, wanderer”) is the most recent piece here. It was completed in 2001 and first performed that year in Rotterdam. It, too, is structured as an arch form in several sections played without a break; but the flow of the music is regularly interrupted by a ritornello reminiscent of Pärt’s tintinabulli. This is beautiful music and a welcome addition to Vasks’ discography.

All three pieces are superbly played by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and their leader Katarina Andreasson who is also the excellent soloist in the Violin Concerto, a work that obviously means much to her. I listened to Kremer’s own recording of that piece, but I could not hear much difference. I first thought that the Swedes were a bit tame in the violent aleatoric section mentioned earlier; but no, not at all. This release is up to BIS’s best standards.

Hubert Culot

All three pieces superbly played ... well up to BIS’s best standards. ... see Full Review


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