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Canti Drammatici
Peteris VASKS
Piano Quartet (2001) [36:35]  
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60 (1875) [33:48]  
Ensemble Raro
rec. 20-22 August 2007, August-Everding-Saal, Grünwald
SOLO MUSICA SM119 [70:12]
Experience Classicsonline

An interesting coupling of two masterpieces for piano quartet, one of them firmly established in the repertory, the other a contender for being positioned likewise in years to come. Make no mistake, Peteris Vasks is a major voice in the musical world, and this substantial chamber work sits well alongside its famous colleague by Brahms. Vasks manages to communicate an accessible manner, especially in the opening phase of his Piano Quartet, but he always has a deeply serious intention, and in this composition the intensity builds as the music progresses, in this case reaching a powerful climax before subsiding towards silence in a highly effective postlude. He has admitted to the influence of Shostakovich, mainly because of their shared willingness to engage in dark imageries.
The performance by Ensemble Raro does the music justice, and it is well recorded too, bringing atmosphere as well as impact. If anything the recorded balance is a little on the close side, and it is sometimes possible to hear the players breathing in sympathy with the shaping of their performance. The music is articulated with strength and clarity, while the phrasing seems admirably judged. The six sections of the quartet are neatly cued on the disc, allowing the newcomer to the music to follow the structure the more easily. So too there are descriptions of these phases (or movements) by the composer that help underline his intentions. As such, the Canto principale – Cantabile, marks the point of destination, from which there is a subsequent release into the slow Postlude at tempo Adagio.
Vasks is a composer much to be recommended and this performance serves his cause well. Not so the general presentation of the disc, however, which is absurdly over-designed, with tiny print in white over a background of forest photographs. The artists are also seen leaning against trees while holding their instruments, to add to the general absurdity of these indulgences. This kind of thing gets in the way of the supposed purpose of the supporting documentation and does no-one any credit, least of all the perpetrators.
The Brahms performance, like that of the Vasks Quartet, has great passion and commitment, and the music is very well played by this talented group. Again the recording is rather close and in the first movement damagingly so, according the music a fierceness in the more heavily scored passages that gets in the way of the musical line, which is always so important a factor with this composer. As such it comes as no surprise that the jewel in the crown is the slow movement, which is played with a fine judgement of both phrasing and tempo, as well as with beautifully secure intonation from the string players.
If you are prepared to tolerate the unhelpful packaging, this issue should bring long-term rewards.
Terry Barfoot


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