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Artūrs GRĪNUPS (1931-1989)
Chamber and Orchestral Works
Symphony No. 3 Symphony Novella (1959/1970) [23:26]
Sonata for violin and piano No. 2 (1974) [11:14]
Trio for violin, cello and piano (1974) [19:29]
Symphony No. 9 (1988) [12:21]
Quasi una partita (1979) [10:43]
Latvian National Symphony Orchestra/Leons Reiters; Imants Resnis
Indulis Sūna (violin); Inga Sūna (piano) (Sonata); Jānis Bulavs (violin); Leons Veldre (cello); Aldis Liepiņš (piano) (Trio); Artūrs Grīnups (piano) (Quasi)
rec. 1971 (3), 1977 (Sonata), 1994 (Trio), 1989 (9), 1978 (Quasi), Latvian Radio recordings
SKANI LMIC022 [77:53]

I take a fair amount of convincing about CDs that mix media: in this case the Latvian Music Information Centre have placed orchestral works alongside chamber pieces. My objections tend to fall away a little when a single composer is being showcased after a period of neglect. Here all five scores are by the same composer. It is all music, after all and the compilation is generous at three minutes short of eighty minutes.

Grīnups' instrument was the double bass and he played in that capacity in Latvian orchestras for all of his career, only retiring in 1982. He was something of a polymath and by no means a walled-in musician. He was also awkward company and could alienate others which probably did not help dissemination of his music, even within Latvia. While still a student in 1953, Grīnups began composition studies with Ādolfs Skulte. He secured his degree in 1958 with his First Symphony.

His Third Symphony, like the even shorter Ninth, is in a single movement. It is Grīnups' way that he gets his message across in a short, compressed time. The Third is about the same length as Sibelius' Seventh. After a grumbling introduction chirping carefree woodwind enter (3:00) only to reappear at 17:54. The music rises to momentary torment and then at 4:15 there is a falling away into murmuring distances in a sound world recalling Nystroem's Sinfonia del Mare. At 8:50 there's the vinegary abrasion of a dance closely followed (9:00) by a whirl of activity typical of the 1940s works of Finnish composer, Uuno Klami. Textures are open and breathe easily. The influence of Stravinsky (Rite of Spring) can be heard at 16:07 but it is Rimsky-Korsakov's shadow that passes in panoply at 18:00. Episodes follow, including at 23.00 one of those lulling marine moments suggestive of the uttermost skerries and a limitless horizon. A gentle last susurration brings things to a close.

This is said to be "one of the most vivid examples of Artūrs Grīnups’ early works" and it certainly feels that way. This symphony fell in a period of intense symphonic activity between the ages of 28 and 30 when he wrote his symphonies 2-5. A less romantic-melodious style then surfaced which it seems is reflected in his Legend in Four Moods for Violin and Symphony Orchestra (1964) and Concerto for French Horn and Symphony Orchestra (1969). As far as the Third Symphony is concerned, a second version came about at the suggestion of conductor Leons Reiters in 1970. This is what is heard on the present disc. The composer had made substantial changes, shortening the piece and presenting it as a single movement. It was then given its new name Symphony Novella.

During the 1970s symphonic music was put to one side and his favoured medium became chamber music as exemplified in the works on this disc. The Violin Sonata No. 2 heard here is in three movements, each with its own track. The first two adopt the sort of 'wrong note' lyricism we hear in the chamber works of Frankel and Rawsthorne but there's an angular Stravinskian edginess as well. There's a return to pleading lyrical sentences in the finale where one of the work's prizes is a long and frank cantilena from the violin. The Sonata's song-saturated ways are at times very British in sound.

The Piano Trio is from same year as the Violin Sonata No. 2. It is in three movements, each separately tracked. This score is a tougher proposition with angular dissonance mobilised around a chastened chill. The finale has a Bach-like 'plod' with the philosopher-hero walking slowly and purposefully forward. Stern dissonance returns before a mournfully passive end.

In 1988, twenty-one years after the Eighth, Grīnups again felt the pull of the symphony. The Ninth Symphony is heard here in one track. It is a coal-black corvid of a work which muses morosely and the atmosphere of which you could cut with a knife. At first a wispy desolation predominates but there are upwellings of warmth from a deep and distant bass level. The brass caw and bark, voicing an anger that speaks out rather than sulks. At 8:14 conflict racks the stage but this is more magnificence in battle rather than fury over fields of slaughter. At 12:00 there are some quite striking cold steely shimmers and tolling drums. To close, a solo violin appears - a single vulnerable interlocutor who gets out half a phrase before the work closes.

The Ninth Symphony was premiered in the presence of the composer in September 1989.

Quasi una partita for piano solo is played by the composer, whose skills as a pianist clearly should not have been eclipsed by his playing of the double bass. This work has a sidereal coolness about it that eventually cedes the field to stern and strongly rhythmic writing.

Grīnups is not given to prolixity. Look at the timings of each pieces, although that judgement depends on what the composer has to say and how compelling the potential of the ideas. Here is an inventive composer with messages to convey aside from his own aspirations at a technical level.

Rob Barnett


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