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Tālivaldis ĶENIŅŠ (1919-2008)
Violin Concerto (1974) [21:42]
Concerto for Five Percussionists and Orchestra (1983) [19:40]
Beatae voces tenebrae (1977) [13:15]
Eva Bindere (violin)
Perpetuum Ritmico (percussion ensemble)
Latvian National Symphony Orchestra/Andris Poga
rec. 2020, Great Guild Concert Hall, Riga, Latvia
SKANI LMIC088 [54:37]

I do not know whether this recent release devoted to orchestral works by Kenins (as in my previous review, an accepted simplified spelling of his name) signals some renewed interest in this composer’s music. In any case, this is the second disc of his music to have come my way within the last few months.

As with most pieces of his, Kenins put no programme behind the music and, true to say, this music does not need any far-fetched explanation to make its mark. His stylistic manner here is at best described as 20th Century main stream: the music inhabits a generally quite accessible sound world, sometimes tinged with mild dissonance and often lively rhythms. The structure of the five-movement Violin Concerto is fairly clear, with a short Scherzo at the centre. The most unusual trait is the Finale. It opens with a fairly developed cadenza leading into the final flourish. The Concerto is a rather virtuosic piece of music, in which the soloist is rarely silent, if at all. This nice find may rub shoulders with, say, Prokofiev’s violin concertos, particularly with the Second Violin Concerto.

The number of percussion concertos has considerably grown over the past decades, but there are still not that many big pieces for percussion and orchestra. Kenins’s substantial Concerto for Five Percussionists and Orchestra is a worthy addition to that repertoire. The composer has used percussion in many of his works. He once said in an interview that he “appreciates the extensive opportunities that percussion instruments offer. They provide so much colour. They give my music a dynamic profile.” The concerto was commissioned by the Faculty of Music of the University of Toronto. The faculty had then a first-rate percussion class directed by Russell Hartenberger, the founder of the Nexus percussion ensemble. The concerto is in five movements played without break. The central one is a fairly short Scherzo surrounded by two somewhat longer slower movements. The second Lento then leads into the lively, rhythmical coda bringing the concerto to its emphatic close. This is another very fine work of often brilliant writing, but it allows for quieter episodes in sharp contrast with the more vigorous sections. This piece, a worthwhile addition to the repertoire, deserves more than the occasional hearing.

Fine as these two concertos may be, I think that the finest work in this release is the purely orchestral Beatae voces tenebrae. It was completed in 1977 during what Kenins mentioned as “a period of grief in his life mourning the passing of two close friends”. The composer thus quotes from, or alludes to, pieces which share some of the same moods such as Liszt's Funérailles, a motive from Beethoven's Les Adieux Sonata as well as allusion to the In Paradisum from Fauré's Requiem. The whole is bound together by the ever-present BACH motif. All these passing quotes and allusions are subtly woven into Kenins’s own personal idiom. The composer also stated that “the work is not intended as a dirge but rather as a meditation on our attitudes towards human frailty where reminiscences of love and kindness come as often in mind as tragedy and sorrow”. The music, however, is free from self-complacency, and it rather exudes a deeply felt homage to “those beloved shadows who once were a part of our lives” (the composer's epigraph on the score), a perfect summing-up of this deeply-felt, often poignant piece of music.

I do not think that these superbly assured, well prepared and committed performances are likely to be bettered soon, and they do not to, for they do these very fine works and their composer full justice.

Hubert Culot

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