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Pēteris VASKS (b. 1946)
Presence (Klātbūtne)
Concerto No. 2 for cello and string orchestra [35:02]
Musique du Soir for cello and organ [12:47]
Grāmata čellam – The Book for cello solo (1978) [12:46]
Sol Gabetta (cello)
Irčne Tamacheff-Gabetta (organ)
Amsterdam Sinfonietta/Candida Thompson
rec. 3 July 2015, Stadsgehoorzaal Leiden, Netherlands (Concerto), 2 July 2015, Evangelische Kirche, Niedereggenen, Germany (Musique du Soir) and 9-12 November 2009, Koncerthuset DR Byen, Kopenhagen, Denmark.
SONY CLASSICAL 88725423122 [60:35]

Pēteris Vasks’ music has grown in popularity in recent years, and he is now well represented via a variety of CD labels, as a quick search through these pages will show. The genesis of this Second Cello Concerto started with Sol Gabetta’s encountering another work on this programme, the solo piece Grāmata čellam, which uses the human voice as part of its content. Gabetta asked Vasks to include the human voice in the concerto as it “introduces an element of polyphony into the piece that you otherwise don’t get with the solo instrument on its own.”

Vasks indicates his happiness with this concerto and this performance, so we’re off to a good start. Ably accompanied by the excellent Amsterdam Sinfonietta, the first movement is an expressive and deeply romantic Andante cantabile, the core of which emerges only after a ‘slow-burn’ opening cadenza from the soloists. The central movement opens with an energetic Allegro moderato, but not too many minutes pass before the mood changes to a section with some Shostakovich-like profundity. Vasks sees the quicker, rhythmic aspects of this movement as a place “in which even negative ideas – the feelings of aggression – can be processed… it is [also] possible to hear the sarcastic and ironical tutti passages” in this movement, but the message is deadly serious: “there is a final chord in this second movement that sounds like a scream.”

The final Adagio is “the most important passage in the whole work: the key canto…”, and if you are a fan of Barber’s Adagio then you can gather some of the atmosphere created here. Vasks sees this work as being “dominated by a mood that suggests the soul ascending into the cosmos,” with ideas of the soul returning to earth to start a new life that takes a vocal form. Listeners waiting for this magical moment will find it almost at the end, 11.00 into the last movement. I have the feeling there would have been more opportunities to heighten certain expressive moments with this aspect of the commission, and in some ways see it as a missed opportunity, but that’s just my humble opinion. There is plenty of passion and eloquence in this movement to go along with the beauty and repose, and the whole work is very fine and superbly crafted.

Musique du Soir for cello with organ was originally written for hunting horn and organ, though you would never guess it from this version. The free and expressive cello singing over slowly moving harmonies from the “great and majestic” organ make for a gorgeous experience, though the organ – here played by the cellist’s mother – is by no means used to overpower and impress, and the acoustic is more chapel than church.

Grāmata čellam for cello solo is divided into two movements, the first being “very intense and tragic”, the second “very soft, sad, with a heartfelt singing line.” As you might expect, this is the most ‘difficult’ of the pieces in this programme but its rewards rise above its demands, as do Sol Gabetta’s technical abilities rise above its challenges. With masses of character and expressive depth, this is very much a reference recording, and Vasks complements the performance with his final words in the booklet, “the soul can breathe, it can sing.”

Dominy Clements



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