February 28, 2012
The distinguished and world renowned Baltic string orchestra Kremerata Baltica, led by artistic director and visionary violinist Gidon Kremer, in 2010 released a unique collection of string works entitled De Profundis.
Instead of focusing on a particular composer or style of music, the collection is of works by composers who were inspired to “cry out from the depths.” According to Kremer, they are works that cried out for a better world. The 12 works are by composers from many different centuries and styles—modern and classical, melodic and harsh, positive and negative.
Though Kremer writes in the liner notes that “it is not my intention to make De Profundis a political statement,” it is clear that it is. Kremer names the regimes of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Myanmar and Russia. He dedicates the collection specifically to Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky – a political enemy of Vladimir Putin—and broadly to “those who refuse to be silenced,” and also writes about the corruptive power of oil.
That being said, politics is mercifully absent from the works themselves. As Kremer writes in the notes, the collected works “send their own individual message to the listener…appealing to their profoundest emotions.” The varied range of works is masterfully handled by Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica, and though the styles vary rather dramatically throughout the recording, the performances are always compelling and make clear the orchestra’s versatility and ability to successfully interpret works from hundreds of years of musical history.
For example, the earliest work on this album is the “Minuet No. 3 and Trios in D minor” by Franz Schubert, an early Romantic era composer who, in his very brief life, created some truly beautiful music. The prolific Schubert, though better known for his Lieder, also achieved success in other forms of music, as shown by this recording. Schubert’s wonderful sense of melody is brought forth by Kremerata Baltica.
Though many composers in the 19th century were beset with tragedy, one of the most tragic was Robert Schumann, whose promising piano performance career was cut short by a hand injury, and, in later years, mental breakdown. De Profundis contains Schumann’s “Fugue No. 6” from “Six Fugues on the Name B.A.C.H.” Schumann, though known more for piano works, also shows his versatility in the field of orchestral composition, with his Baroque style “Fugue,” interplaying all the instruments of the orchestra to form a rich tapestry.
Baltic composers are represented on this collection as well. Estonian composer Arvo Pärt and his “Passacaglia,” is performed in the composer’s distinctive deliberate, measured minimalist style, with the violins adding a level of tension to the piece. Lithuania’s Raminta Šerkšnytė is represented by the work that gives the album its title, “De Profundis,” an intimate yet ominous composition. Also performed is the picturesque “Flowering Jasmine” by Georgs Pelēcis of Latvia, featuring Andrei Pushkarev on the vibraphone.
Not just European composers are found in the collection. Argentina’s Astor Piazzolla’s “Melodia en La menor (Canto de Octubre), though an orchestral work, clearly displays his tango mastery.
As the works are of a rather varied nature, it would have been interesting to find out more about how Kremer chose them. The jumping back and forth through the centuries can lead to some jarring juxtaposition to the listener. Going from the German early Romantic Schubert to modern Hungarian Stevan Tickmayer and then to Soviet Russian Dmitri Shostakovich makes for a bit of a roller coaster ride. However, the performances are impeccable.
As was Kremer’s intention, all of the works here are intended to appeal to emotions. Although the works are in dramatically different styles, they all have a similar emotional heft. Kremerata Baltica and Kremer provide a truly expressive and vivid journey throughout the centuries.
Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.