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Pēteris VASKS (b.1946)
Lonely Angel [15:13]
Piano Trio Episodi e canto perpetuo [28:16]
Plainscapes [18:08]
Trio Palladio
rec. 2019, Dzintari Concert Hall (The Small Hall), Jūrmala, Latvia
ONDINE ODE13432 [62:05]

The music of the Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks has become quite popular but repetition of the recorded repertoire is a problem. I do not need yet another version of the Concerto Distant Light or the String Symphony Voices, present seemingly on every other disc of his orchestral music. I have turned to his chamber and choral music, and found many pieces to admire, not least Plainscapes for choir with violin and cello, but even in these genres there is repetition. This is my third version of the Piano Trio, although thankfully the couplings are vastly different. One disc has a varied array of Vasks’s chamber music (Conifer 75605 51272 2), the other offers fine recordings of Shostakovich’s piano trios (Profil PH12045).

Two pieces on this disc, Lonely Angel and Plainscapes, are new to me. They complement Episodi e canto perpetuo really well. As a trained violinist and double bassist, Vasks understands the sonorities of string instruments. This comes through especially well in the opening work, Lonely Angel. It actually is a reinterpretation of the final movement of the String Quartet No. 4. It seems to gradually build out of nothingness; the violin enters very quietly before being joined by a rippling piano and the bass line of the cello. The work is deeply meditative. Vasks states that, looking back, there have been many times during his life when he has needed the intervention of a “guardian angel” to see him through. The result is a piece which is more a work for violin with cello and piano, rather than a piano trio in the traditional sense. Never mind: this is still a magnificent piece of music.

There follows the better known piano trio, Episodi e canto perpetuo. On the Latvian Philharmonic Trio’s recording, it bears the subtitle “Hommage O. Messiaen”. Vasks has modelled his eight-movement piece on Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. Each movement or contrasting segment calls for differing aspects of virtuosity. The composer describes this as being “like a hard road through evil, delusion, and suffering to a song centred in love”. It is evident from the very beginning that the Trio Palladio are more than a match for whatever the music throws at them. Their account is tauter and more compelling than my two other versions.

The last piece, which musically follows on well from the Piano Trio, is Plainscapes. It was written for choir with violin and cello in 2002, and this version is from 2011. The piano in no way replaces the choir, as Vasks states, whilst the “meditation segments remain virtually the same, but the culminating episode is very different: in the original version where the choir sang the birdsong, now the piano has a real time to shine”. Both versions are great. One could say that the piano writing produces another hommage to Messiaen: it is called upon to produce the various bird songs, which pianist Reinis Zariņš does wonderfully well.

This is a deeply satisfying disc. Trio Palladio’s version of Episodi e canto perpetuo is my clear front-runner, and they play the two other pieces with equal intensity and passion. They have been captured in a wonderful acoustic, with quite natural recorded sound. The booklet notes are all you could wish for.

Stuart Sillitoe

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