Peteris VASKS (b.1946)
The Seasons
White Landscape (1980) [9:45]
Spring Music (1995) [19:38]
Green Landscape (2008) [8:18]
Autumn Music (1981) [15:57]
Music for a Summer Evening (2009) [6:21]
Vestard Shimkus (piano)
rec. live, Great Guild Hall, Riga, Latvia, 23 September 2009
WERGO WER 6734 2 [59:54]

Vasks has repeatedly commented on the importance of Nature for him as a person but also as a composer. Indeed Nature often informs his music in one way or another, sometimes almost literally as in the use of stylised birdsong. Rural landscapes from Latvia also imbue some of his music. It is thus not surprising that the cycle of the seasons has inspired him as it has many other composers. His own Seasons, however, were not written as a complete cycle from the start. The idea of a complete cycle came to him when he heard Vestard Shimkus play Pasavara muzika (“Spring Music”) in 2004. The earlier pieces of the cycle - Balta ainava (“White Landscape”) and Rudens muzika (“Autumn Music”) - were composed in 1980 and 1981 respectively for Talivaldis Deksnis who is now better known as an organist and who has recently recorded Vasks’ organ works (Wergo WER 6712 2, reviewed here a few months ago). As with many other similar cycles Vasks’ Gadalaiki (“The Seasons”) are neither programmatic nor descriptive. The music rather suggests impressions and moods.

Balta ainava (“White Landscape”) is a slow, almost minimalist piece evoking frozen, snow-covered landscapes with the simplest, though most effective means. In total contrast, Pavasara muzika (“Spring Music”), subtitled Quasi una sonata, is the longest and most developed of the whole cycle. The music begins slowly, almost hesitantly. Later it ebbs and flows alternating highly contrasting material, by turns slow and meditative and rhythmically intense. It steadily builds to its exalted, almost ecstatic close. Zala ainava (“Green Landscape”) represents summer. The music opens with a great burst of energy and unfolds with relentless alacrity. It pauses in a short slow section until it reaches the folk-inflected coda quoting from a Latvian folk song. Rudens muzika (“Autumn Music”) begins calmly, but the October storms soon sweep over the land. The storms subside and slower episodes (“a gentle sadness” according to the composer) settle in, but “after a last great storm, the snow comes again as a symbol of a conclusion and a new beginning” (Peteris Vasks).

Vasaras vakara muzika (“Music for a Summer Evening”) is not part of the Gadalaiki cycle but was written as an encore of sorts, albeit a fairly substantial one. This is a very fine miniature tone poem unfolding in utter tranquillity except for a somewhat more animated central section.

Although his output includes many chamber works, Peteris Vasks is ultimately better known as an orchestral composer; but these works for piano are really very fine although I suspect that they must be quite taxing and demanding on the player’s part. Vestard Shimkus obviously possesses all the qualities of technique and musicality that these often beautiful works call for.

I also want to single out for praise the quality of the recorded sound. One hardly realises that this programme was recorded live.

No admirer of Vasks’ music will want to be without this very fine release.

Hubert Culot

The first complete performance of Vasks’ cycle Gadalaiki in superb readings and recording.