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Pēteris VASKS (b. 1946)
Viatore (2001, arr. 2002) [16:48]
Cantus ad pacem (1984) [18:13]
Canto di forza (2005, arr. 2006) [13:49]
Musica seria (1988) [16:44]
Te Deum (1991) [12:11]
Tālivaldis Deksnis (organ)
rec. Riga Cathedral, December 2006 and St. Gertrude’s Church, Riga, January 2007 (Te Deum)
WERGO WER67122 [77:45]
Experience Classicsonline

Vasks’ output is not overabundant but it may be a surprise to some that he has composed such a substantial output for organ. That said, two of these pieces are arrangements of works composed for other instrumental forces. Viator (2001) was originally written for strings and is – by far – the best known work here since it has recently been recorded twice, on BIS-CD-1150 and WERGO WER 6705 2, both recently reviewed here. Canto di forza (2005) was composed for the twelve cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic.
Understandably enough this well-filled disc opens with Viatore. This should have been the perfect teaser, were it not for the rather slow tempos adopted. Deksnis’ reading plays for almost seventeen minutes compared to fifteen minutes (Swedish Chamber Orchestra on BIS) and sixteen minutes and a half (Sinfonietta Riga conducted by Normunds Šnē on WERGO). Even so, the music transfers fairly well to the organ although much of the Pärt-like tintinnabuli figurations are a bit lost. Let’s stick with the original version for strings.
The much earlier Cantus ad pacem was composed at about the same time as Vēstijums (“Message” – Strings, percussion and two pianos – 1982) and Lauda (1986). The music refers to that heard in these and other later pieces: hymn-like episodes and bird-song. These are the elements one has come to regard as typical Vasks fingerprints. The music alternates fairly simple textures and cluster-like, aggressive harmonies in such a way as to suggest “real and ideal visions”. It builds to an apocalyptic climax, slows down and then proceeds to a grand hymn-like peroration without achieving any real resolution.
Musica seria was written in 1988 “when the Baltic states were beginning to fight for their independence” (the composer’s words). It is thus not surprising if the overall mood and tone of the music is quite different from that both in the preceding and following works. It opens with “an insistent downward-moving motif” over an ostinato in the bass - actually drawn from a chamber cantata Latvija of 1987. The mood is considerable more uneasy and troubled. The pervasive ominous darkness is briefly dispelled by thunderous clusters. “Quietly but not to be silenced”, the work concludes with a beautiful, ethereal coda. “If I had to imagine Musica seria in visual form, it would be as a sky full of dark and heavy thunderclouds with a thin band of light on the horizon” (Vasks). This comment might apply to many of Vasks’ works indeed, not least his Violin Concerto Distant Light.
A few years ago I reviewed a disc (“From the Golden Treasury of Latvian Organ Music” – MANSCD LCLA 026) in which Vasks’ Te Deum (1991) was included. That very piece struck me as one of his most optimistic pieces … and it still does. The bright assertive introduction leads into a first main section described by the composer as a prayer. The second main hymn-like section opens with a fugue and develops into a song of praise. The final coda is “peaceful and subdued, yet full of light”.
As already mentioned earlier in this review, Canto di forza was composed for the cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic. The arrangement for organ is dedicated to Deksnis, as was that of Viatore. The work opens calmly in meditative mood, again hymn-like in character. The music then gains in momentum and reaches a first climax after which it slowly subsides, paving the way for a section climaxing in a glorious paean of praise before subsiding again. Brief restatements of earlier material are brought into the final confident coda.
Besides my slight reservations concerning Deksnis’ tempos in Viatore, I have only praise and admiration for his superbly committed performances. All are caught in very fine recorded sound, which makes this generously filled release a must for all Vasks fans. It should also draw in those who relish accessible, expressive and communicative music. This is a magnificent release.
Hubert Culot


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