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Nevertheless (1994) [27:41]
Astor Piazzolla, Oskar Strock and Me/Buena Riga [19:13]
The Last Song [4:58]
Gidon Kremer (violin)
Katia Skanavi (piano, Revelation, Nevertheless)
Jānis Šipkēvis (contralto) and Gabor Boldoczki
rec. Radio Studios, Riga, November 2005
MDC 7797 [67:03]
Gidon Kremer introduced some of Georgs Pelēcis's music a while ago with All in the Past (Remembering Oskar Strock), for violin and strings, which appeared on his 2001 Nonesuch album 'Tracing Astor'. The appealing, relatively uncomplicated directness of this composer's work is well represented on this new album from the Belgian Patrick De Clerck's pioneering Megadisc label.
Georgs Pelēcis is a Latvian composer and music scholar, but describes his own work as atypical for his country. 'It can be seen in the context of a trend which appeared in Belgium in the 20th century, called 'new consonant music'.' This unapologetic tonality resists to temptation to enter the world of the 'avant-garde', and instead Pelēcis sees himself as 'a gardener, part guardian and part creator of the beauty in our communal musical paradise.'
I for one am by no means against this kind of expressive language, though on this showing it does carry its share of semantic baggage, pushing its own boundaries almost to the limits of corny film-music sentimentality.
Revelation is a high energy piece, driving forward on a constantly present ostinato rhythm. The vocal lines in the beginning as well as the high contralto of Jānis Šipkēvis encourage a comparison with something like Michael Nyman's 'The Kiss', though the musical language and instrumental colour is softer. It's a shame the text is not given in the booklet, as the voice in lower register is often hard to make out amongst the busy playing, and Ms. Šipkēvis's diction is suspect even when audible - I could only make out about 20% of the words. Pelēcis has a penchant for moving from minor to major keys, and while this is expressive of a 'refusal to accept the dreadful prophesies, preferring the promises of a realm of light and joy in the New Jerusalem' this 'happy' music is almost distressingly diatonic: Vivaldi's 'Spring from The Four Seasons' meets the theme to 'Blackadder'.
Nevertheless creates an entirely different atmosphere, the piano opening in a static, gently moving minor key: ' a state of permanent melancholy.' A violin solo contradicts the minor key, 'swimming in happiness' but maintaining the same gently beautiful atmosphere. The musical narrative has the piano eventually joining the violin in this higher state of being, although one of the anticipations of this collective 'yes' at 9:35 is for me one of the weakest parts of the piece, the solo violin being asked to hack away at double stops while the ensemble meanders around underneath. Breathless antici.....pation keeps us waiting for a climax which it seems will never come, but does allow Gidon Kremer to provide some fine solo work which he makes sound suitably improvisatory. I make it around six and a half minutes for one cadence to resolve, starting at ca12:33 and hitting base with the piano entry at18:57, which must be one of the longest perfect cadences in musical history. By this time some sensitive souls may already have eaten one or other part of their furniture, but I have to say it does create something of a magical effect. After this gentle conjoining of the violin and piano the coda almost immediately loses steam, with fairly meaningless runs and cadences and a Haydn 'Surprise Symphony' soundalike theme, to my mind making the piece about 7 minutes too long. It's as if the musicians have collectively taken Lithium and lost the will to be creative. Stephen Fry is right: there is more creative power in the bipolar condition after all.
Through a unifying tango rhythm underlying its variations, Buena-Riga combines the spirit of Astor Piazzolla and Oskar Strock. The piece takes the form of a kind of fantasy-concerto, with the solo violin introducing melodies or playing with or against them when they appear in the ensemble. This is a very effective piece in the typically nostalgic modes and moods of Piazzolla, and with just enough direct and recognisable quotes and contrasts of texture to carry the music along, although I felt nearly 20 minutes to be a bit of the stretch for the material on offer. More compact is the final work, The Last Song, which expresses 'a particular feeling when we do something for the last time.' This is a kind of minor-key sad 'song without words', though with some idiomatic ornamental violin figurations around the notes near the beginning.
Very well played and recorded, all concerned can be very happy with this release. I make no apologies for my more testy comments however. I feel the right to become a little irritated when someone claims to 'save and regenerate... the scope of classical music (from Monteverdi to Mahler) [which] is a paradise that invites us into the most sumptuous realms that the mind of a composer can imagine', and then presents swathes of rather crass jolliness or fields of empty scales and cadences. There is much of great beauty on this disc, and I do commend it to fans of consonant contemporary composition. There is however also a good deal of padding, which could easily be helped with a bit more imagination or a sharp pair of scissors.
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