The Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks shares much of his musical sound world with the works of, most famously, Arvo Pärt and others, in the school of music dubbed as 'holy minimalism'. If anything, however, Vasks' music is more sonorous, more deep-rooted than the barer fabric of Pärt's discordant and more ostentatiously evocative music. In both composers, there is a distinct sense of a classical foundation backing up a new tonality which emphasises the need for musical release, often from the harsh harmonies or the bars of seemingly motionless homophony.
This new recording from the violinist Vadim Gluzman and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra showcases some of Vasks' largest and most expressive works, with sharp contrasts between peaceful meditation and tumult, with a distinctive build-up throughout each piece and an equally recognisable use of open fourths and fifths, a tendency which makes each sixth or third ever more precious.
The first piece is the Concerto for violin and string orchestra, 'Distant Light', a long, brooding piece, composed in 1996-7, which is built around a series of cadenzas, full of enchanting scales, harsh bass structures and highly evocative chord progressions. Soloist Gluzman plays beautifully, perfectly capturing the sense of constant mystery, agony and momentum which distinguishes the work, as the violin explores all ranges, from bird-like calls at the highest registers, making full use of glissando techniques. The string parts are more like echoes or premonitions of the building harmonies or scant melodies.
Listen — Vasks: Andante (Violin Concerto 'Distant Light')
(track 1, 1:41-2:41) © 2020 BIS Records AB :
The Summer Dances from 2017 for two violins shares much of the same musical aura of the previous piece, but has a slightly lighter tone, with the two instruments playing against each other to create a more melody-driven piece; the movements are arranged into different adverbs: 'Sadly', 'Joyfully', 'Unhurriedly'.
Listen — Vasks: Broadly, sonorously (Summer Dances)
(track 9, 0:01-0:30) © 2020 BIS Records AB :
Again there are more folk-orientated sections, the jaunty quality of which is more suited to the two violins together. It is played with suitable panache and vigour, whilst also highlighting the emotional depth of Vasks' inherently minimalistic and powerful score.
Listen — Vasks: Sadly (Summer Dances)
(track 13, 0:02-0:45) © 2020 BIS Records AB :
The last piece included is the Quartet for violin, viola, cello and piano from 2001. It shares much of the dramatic drive of 'Distant Light', with the same emphasis on open intervals, often with two parts, one moving around the repetitive centre of the other. The stark music throughout is opened by a perfect fifth in the piano, which is, as the sleeve notes attest, 'like a candle that illuminates the forthcoming, more complex themes'. There is however more of a dancing feel about this piece, and a more active sense of direction, backed up by the explorative violin and piano parts.
Listen — Vasks: Danze (Piano Quartet)
(track 17, 0:00-0:57) © 2020 BIS Records AB :
The qualities are especially evident in the second movement, before the familiar tonality returns in a more solemn form in the next, and an almost unnerving and heavily discordant fugue section. Throughout Vasks' music, the constant contrast is between the more morose themes and the playful melodies, and the tumultuous sections of intense discord, and also mystery, the different themes coming together to create a varying musical world, and a highly effective and moving one at that.
Listen — Vasks: Quasi una passacaglia (Piano Quartet)
(track 19, 6:43-7:39) © 2020 BIS Records AB :
The music on this impressive recording deserves much larger recognition, and one that places it beyond supposedly being a series of examples of the 'holy minimalistic' sometimes seen as mere comfort food that purportedly came as a reaction to the more heavy-going music of the latter part of the last century. There is a great amount of beauty and emotional depth to it all, and Vasks deserves to appeal to many through such virtuosic playing as in on show here.
Copyright © 19 August 2020