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Peteris VASKS (b.1946)
Piano Quartet (2001) [36:35]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60 (1875) [33:48]
rec. 20-22 August 2007, August-Everding-Saal, Grünwald
MUSICA SM119 [70:12]
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 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.
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