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Peteris VASKS (b. 1946)
Concerto for flute and orchestra (2007-08, rev. 2011) † [33:30]
Sonata for flute and alto flute solo (1992) [11:53]
Aria e danza for flute and piano (1972, rev.2010) † [11:13]
Landscape with Birds for flute solo (1980) [8:19]
Michael Faust (flute, alto flute), Sheila Arnold (piano)
Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä/Patrick Gallois
rec. Hankasalmi Church, Jyväskylä, Finland, 5-6 May 2010 (Concerto); The Loft, Wißmannstrasse, Cologne, Germany, 13 January 2012
†World première recordings
NAXOS 8.572634 [64:55]

If I hear a piece of music on the radio that I don’t immediately recognise I try to guess first of all roughly when it was written. Then I try to identify the part of the world it is from. I do this before trying to determine any traits that might indicate who it might be by. In this way I can at least narrow down a few possibilities before waiting to find out the answer.
 
I don’t know enough of Latvian composer Peteris Vasks’ music to be able to identify it precisely as being by him. On the other hand I might have managed the rest of my own criteria and narrowed down the part of the world in rough terms. There does, after all, seem to be a commonality of sound world shared by composers from the Baltic States and Finland. I find that there is a wonderfully ethereal quality to the music of composers from that area of Europe that is so very descriptive. I first heard this in the music of Sibelius and it seemed and seems to me to describe perfectly the cold, clear air and snowy tree-filled landscape.
 
In his Concerto for flute and orchestra Vasks’ also has that precise quality for which the flute, with its bright, clear tone, is a perfect vehicle. This is a seriously brilliant work of almost indescribable beauty. It works its magic on the listener from the very opening and is so captivating it is difficult to leave it for another work without wanting to hear it again immediately. No one could fail to be mesmerised by its fabulous tonal quality. Also fascinating are the extraordinary abilities of flautist Michael Faust for whom the concerto was written.
 
The art of flute playing is again amply demonstrated in the Sonata for flute and alto flute solo. It’s in three movements, the central one for flute and the outer ones for alto flute. It is an object lesson in flute virtuosity in which Vasks has the instruments mimic the calls of animals or birds. None of this presents any challenge at all to Faust whose artistry seems boundless. 
Aria e danza for flute and piano is less identifiable in terms of geographical origin. That in no way detracts from its qualities. It was written ostensibly for teaching purposes but I can imagine that any would-be flautist who could achieve a convincing performance of it would be considered as being on their way to achieving their aim.
 
The final work Landscape with Birds for flute solo is another composition that would test all but the most skilled musicians. It calls for almost every facet the instrument can produce.
 
It was no surprise to read that Vasks is passionate about environmental issues. He incorporates his concerns about the fragile relationship between Man and Nature into his music as well as implying the risks we run if we don’t keep this at the forefront of our minds in our dealings with nature. These concerns, which are so well expressed in the flute concerto, are of greater importance to him than a simple statement about the beauty of nature though obviously that also comes through.
 
The concerto (in its revised form) and the Aria e Danza are both world première recordings. The sound is superb. South Indian-born pianist Sheila Arnold is an utterly sympathetic partner for Faust in the Aria e Danza. The small 38-member Finnish Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä is exemplary in its performance of the concerto under Patrick Gallois who has been its music director for nine years up to 2013. After his tenure ends the orchestra’s artistic committee will take on the responsibility for deciding its programmes.
 
This is a wonderful disc of the most compelling music. Once again Naxos has come up trumps in presenting it to the public and at a price it can afford. All of this should help it to achieve the widespread recognition it deserves.
 
Steve Arloff 


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