Conductor: Krišs Rusmanis
Orchestra: Riga Philharmonic Orchestra
Performers: Normunde Schnee (Cor Anglais), Nora Novik, Raffi Kharajanyan (Piano), Ligita Zemberga (Cello)
Year of recordings: 1994
SPARS Code: DDD
About the Composer: Pēteris Vasks (1946- ) is a Latvian composer whose works bear strong nationalistic and moral themes.
About the Music: Vasks continues to write new music, but this 2004 reissue of a 1994 Conifer Records disc offers a helpful survey of his smaller orchestral works, many of which were conceived in the 1980s.
Cantabile: The radiant tone of this string orchestra composition becomes increasingly troubled, yet its shimmer remains unscathed. Surprisingly effective!
Cor Anglais Concerto: There aren’t very many concertos sculpted for the cor anglais, so we should be grateful that Vasks has provided us with this four-movement adventure which sends the peppy woodwind treading through the dimly lit recesses of melancholy. The second movement offers a respite from the gloom, as it features a playful cadenza that is followed with a jovial outburst from the orchestra. The concerto drifts to a close with a dash of mysterious, percussion-administered sparkles.
Message: Vasks states that this work represents a battle between the forces of good and evil. Who knew that percussion would play a key role in such a harrowing struggle? While I relish the initial effervescence of the piano and the other tingling instruments as the strife is about to commence, this isn’t my favourite offering on the disc. The instrumentation is never aimless, however, and the resulting sounds do provide most listeners with the dire feeling that the fate of the known universe is at stake.
Musica Dolorosa: Written shortly after the death of Vasks’ sister, this elegaic string orchestra work is the greatest accomplishment included on this disc. In the first half of the piece’s roughly thirteen minute length, there is a magnificent brand of intensity present which gradually unfurls itself through several exciting string flourishes. The resulting explosion leads to a malevolent skirmish which eventually careens into a brief moment of silence. When the instruments return, an insatiable sense of grief raises its wings; the troubled strings at the end are very disconcerting.
Lauda: Listeners who haven’t become completely depressed by the preceding pieces should appreciate this nationalistic work. Though reminiscent of Cantible during some of its more tranquil moments, Lauda remains stylistically distinctive with its generous use of percussion. There are two overwhelming ‘tidal waves’ generated by the orchestra, and it may prove difficult for some not to assume that there is a sort of nautical motif in play when they emerge.
Unlike a considerable bulk of modernist works, you won’t need to worry about encountering any ‘experimental’ music in this collection, so you can fearlessly remove the latch from your front door and appreciate Vasks’ province of sounds.