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Contemporary Chamber Music From Latvia 
Platons BURAVICKIS (b. 1989) 
Voltage for cello, piano and drum set [10:32]
Georgs PELĒCIS (b. 1947) 
Field of Dandelions for cello, piano and vibraphone [7:21]
Andris VECUMNIEKS (b. 1964) 
Valse Art-i-Shock for cello, piano, vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel and tom-toms [5:30]
Linda LEIMANE (b. 1989)
Silhouettes. Behaviours for cello, piano, marimba, gongs and cymbals [7:07]
Rihards DUBRA (b. 1964)
The Passions of Autumn for cello, piano, marimba, glockenspiel, wind-chimes, cymbal [11:56]
Kristaps PĒTERSONS (b. 1982)
Z.I.E.M.A / Zigzagging Images and the Elements of the Melancholic Actuality for cello, piano, marimba, vibraphone, wind-chimes, double bass, DJ and electronics [16:06]
Zigmars LIEPIŅŠ (1952)
Cherry Rain for cello, piano, marimba, wind chimes and triangle arr. Kirsis [3:44]
Trio Art-I-Shock
Monsta (scratch)
Kristaps Pētersons (double bass)
rec. 2017, Latvian Radio Studio
World Premiere Recordings
SKANI LMIC057 [62:20]

A trio ensemble consisting of cello, percussion and piano may seem a very unusual line-up, but that is how the Latvian ensemble Art-i-Shock present themselves. They formed in 2011, but it’s only now that they’re releasing a debut album, featuring contemporary chamber music from their homeland. All the composers included are very much alive and kicking, and each has tailored his or her composition to the group’s unique configuration. All are receiving their world premiere recordings. The release is a collaborative effort between the trio and Latvian Radio (the ensemble have been artist-in-residence for the year 2017), and the music chosen evinces a variety of styles and is rich in contrast. Some of the compositions are melodic whilst others, you'll discover, are radically experimental. The final choice of programme brings together works that have proved particularly popular with the radio audiences.

Platons Buravickis’ Voltage is a fitting opener, as it literally grabs you by the scruff of the neck. It’s hard-hitting, spiky, aggressive and percussive. The notes make reference to the similarities with rock and pop, and I thought I could also hear the occasional nod to jazz. The ostinato rhythms and unbridled energy certainly give it a mesmeric effect, so much so that Georgs Pelēcis’ Field of Dandelions, which follows, comes as soothing balm.  Endzele’s vibraphone adds a panoply of floral tints to this charming melodic piece. The constant, undulating motion evokes a landscape of dandelions swaying in the breeze. The Art-i-Shock Waltz is an adaptation of the second movement of Andris Vecumnieks’ Sonata for Cello and Piano. Over its 5½ minute span it cumulatively builds up to a gripping climax. In addition to cello and piano, the composer enlists   vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel and tom-toms. Elīna Endzele’s deft and dazzling virtuosic handling of her percussion section, especially the glockenspiel, I must single out for special praise.

Linda Leimane’s Silhouettes. Behaviors is underpinned by an eerie, mysterious calm. Glissandi and startling percussion effects portray a landscape of suspense and angst. I think this piece has to be my personal favorite. The sombre element is also present in Rihards Dubra’s The Passions of Autumn, where the dark hues of the cello are effectively called into play. Percussion effects conjure up raindrops which form a contrasting diaphanous backdrop to the cello's melancholic, autumnal lament. Dubra ups the pace halfway through, and the rain becomes almost a torrent. At the end a stillness pervades, instilling an element of calm.

I think the most challenging work on the disc is  Kristaps Pētersons’ ‘Z.I.E.M.A.’ (or – Zigzagging Images and the Elements of the Melancholic Actuality). The composer joins the trio on double-bass, with Monsta on scratch. This is a multi-layered collage, made up of strange sound effects, fragmented dialogue (Emily Brontë, Shakespeare, and Wilhelm Müller are quoted), and musical references to well-known works. A quote from 'Gute Nacht' from Schubert's Winterreise, and what sounds to me like a rhythmic figure from the finale of Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony, make an early appearance. At 16 minutes, it’s the most substantial work in the programme, but I did feel that it outstays its welcome somewhat. I really can’t make my mind up about this work, even after giving it several hearings. It does help the listener having a detailed breakdown in the booklet. Zigmārs Liepiņš’ Cherry Rain, which ends the disc, has a child-like innocence. The spellbinding rhythm is guaranteed to enthral and bewitch.

I must commend Art-i-Shock for their refined, nuanced and technically accomplished playing. The music is exciting and adventurous and there are rich pickings for those willing to push the boat out. Superbly recorded, with excellent accompanying notes, the release gets my enthusiastic thumbs up.

Stephen Greenbank

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