Pianist Plešanovs’ debut solo album features ‘Mushroom Rhapsody’ and other eclectic piano works

In addition to spotlighting Latvian composers and their compositions, the Latvian national record label Skani also endeavors to shine a light on the many talented musicians in Latvia. Pianist Rihards Plešanovs is such a musician, and his debut solo piano album Les Flexibles, containing performances of 20th and 21st century works by both Latvian and international composers, was released in 2023.

The works included on this collection are an eclectic mix, and are also interspersed with readings of poetry, and Plešanovs’ performances are infused with both his technical and dramatic interpretation skills.

The album opens with Plešanovs’ lively performance of Imants Zemzaris’ ‘Faktūras’ (Textures). A three movement work, each brief movement compresses much into its short running time – the first is a blur of motion, the second a kind of warped, yet playful dance, while the dreamy third movement concludes the work on an uncertain, even eerie note. Plešanovs dexterously brings out the many details and elements that have been woven into this work by Zemzaris.

The work that gives the album its title – ‘Les Flexibles’ – is by Latvian composer Linda Leimane. Leimane’s work, which, as per the composer, “came from improvising on an out-of-tune piano in a bathhouse”, is an opus with dynamic intensity – it leaps between an almost frantic, hyperactive mood to a more foreboding, apprehensive atmosphere. Plešanovs capably brings these varied moods, as well as the technical demands of the piece, together to make for a compelling performance.

Composer Pēteris Vasks’ cycle ‘Gadalaiki’ (Seasons) for piano is perhaps one of the best known and beloved piano works in the Latvian repertoire, particularly the somber and beautiful ‘Baltā ainava’ (White Landscape). At times tender and melancholy, others uneasy, yet filled with longing, Plešanovs provides a beautiful and moving performance of this wintry opus.

The poetic and spoken word interludes are perhaps a strange choice, but they do offer a brief respite between the often very heavily dramatic opuses. The interludes are in Latvian, Latgallian, Russian, English and French. The poetic introduction ‘Mushroom Rhapsody’ switches multiple times between languages, which leaves the listener slightly disconcerted, as it is a poem about going mushrooming, but goes on spiritual and existential tangents. The poem then leads into one of Plešanovs’ own compositions, also entitled ‘Mushroom Rhapsody’, for prepared piano. Plešanovs’ composition – inspired by John Cage (who, as per the CD booklet, “had been an active mushroom hunter and researcher”) – is very abstract, occasionally seeming more like a collection of sounds than a musical work, but, as the work progresses, it builds in intensity and turns into a rhythmic, almost jazzy work.

The album also contains performances of works by György Ligeti, Fazil Say, Olivier Messiaen, and Edgars Raginskis.

Pianist Rihards Plešanovs convincingly shows himself as a preeminent Latvian pianist, and the Les Flexibles collection, with its panorama of 20th and 21st century piano works displays the many facets of his talents. From moments of dramatic tension to somber melancholy, to abstract visions created using the prepared piano, Plešanovs has made an impressive debut album.

For further information, please visit the Skani website.

Les Flexibles

Rihards Plešanovs, Piano

LMIC/SKANi 147, 2023

Track listing:

Imants ZEMZARIS – Faktūras

1. Allegro 1:52

2. Andantino 3:46

3. Moderato 1:52

4. György LIGETI – Fanfares étude

5. Liāna LANGA – Skumju brālis – spoken word

6. Fazil SAY – Black Earth

7. Linda LEIMANE –  Les flexibles

8. Anna RANCĀNE –  Bārna sapyns – spoken word

9. Olivier MESSIAEN – Le baiser de l’Enfant-Jésus from the cycle Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus

10. György LIGETI – L’escalier du diable étude

11. Sergej TIMOFEJEV – Утро в стране интровертов – spoken word

12. Pēteris VASKS – Baltā ainava

13. Edgars RAGINSKIS – Maza elektroniskā mūzika

14. Inga ŽOLUDE Mushroom Rhapsody – spoken word

15. Rihards PLEŠANOVS – Sēņu rapsodija for prepared audio recording and piano

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area . 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.

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