Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks, who celebrated his 70th birthday in 2016, has long been a significant voice in Latvian classical music, so much so that his music, be it choir songs, chamber music, or large scale orchestral works, resonates with listeners all over the world. From small miniatures to expansive symphonic tapestries, his music is imbued with emotions, at times a great sadness but also with hope.
In 2015, the German music label Wergo released a collection of Vasks’ symphonic works, including three of his most significant and notable pieces – Sala, Musica Appassionata and Credo, performed by the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Atvars Lakstīgala. These three works, in the hands of the musicians of Liepāja, make for a memorable journey in the musical journey through Vasks’ compositional world.
Vasks often has themes of nature and conservation in his works, and elements can be found in the work Sala (Island), a symphonic elegy for orchestra composed in 2006. The musical portrait of the island begins as a lonely journey, with calm, plaintive melodies expressed throughout various wind instruments, such as the English horn, then later taken over by flute and clarinet. The island itself is a place of calm reflection, but is also lonely and abandoned, and one gets the sense that the island is also a place of banishment. Vasks’ music, in the hands of the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, paints a vivid and dynamic picture, transporting the listener to this imaginary place, full of beauty and solitude.
Musica appassionata per orchestra d’archi , composed in 2002, perhaps slightly unusually for Vasks, opens powerfully and dramatically, with a swell of strings. In many of Vasks’ compositions there often is a slow and gradual buildup of tension, and this work displays such an approach, a sense of growing unease as the melody begins its growing chromatic climb. The louder passages are balanced by quieter moments, but though the volume is lower the sense of anxiety remains palpable, particularly in the plucked strings. The orchestra maintains this dramatic intensity throughout the work, with the only real release at the very end, when a calmer melody prevails, and slowly fades out, punctuated by the rhythmic heartbeat of the double basses, giving the work a sense of mortality.
The spiritual and sacred are frequently the foundations of many of Vasks’ works, and this is particularly true in the final work on the album – Credo per orchestra, composed in 2009. Though instrumental, the work expresses a prayer-like affirmation of belief, particularly in the undulating strings throughout. Like many of Vasks’ works, it balances turbulence and harmony, and has a calm meditative nature. The entrance of the brass instruments gives the work a majestic flair, and then the work becomes meditative, with slow descending melodies in the wind instruments. As the orchestra fades out at the end, the sound of chimes brings the work to a peaceful and solemn conclusion.
According to the booklet notes (in both English and German), the multiple award winning Liepāja Symphony Orchestra is the oldest active orchestra in the Baltic States. The LSO often performs internationally, in many European countries as well as further afield in countries like Malaysia and India. Atvars Lakstīgala has been conductor since 2010, and has also conducted symphony orchestras, including the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra and the Rome Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra and conductor have also been actively recording, and have released many praised recordings, including Kurland Sounds (a collection of symphonic works by composers of the Kurzeme area) and Sound of Freedom (works by Imants Kalniņš).
The Wergo label also has a long history of working with Latvian musicians and presenting the best of Latvian compositions, particularly the music of Pēteris Vasks – including Viatore (symphonic works) and Gadalaiki (piano works performed by Vestards Šimkus). This CD is another memorable and significant entry in their catalogue.
Presenting three of Pēteris Vasks’ powerful symphonic works, this collection is a towering achievement, both by the composer and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra and conductor Atvars Lakstīgala. It is a fitting tribute to the composer for his 70th birthday.
Sala, Musica Appassionata, Credo
Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, conductor Atvars Lakstīgala
Wergo, WER 7323 2, 2015
- Sala – symphonic elegy for orchestra
- Musica Appassionata per orchestra d’archi
- Credo per orchestra
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