Like most reviewers, I tend to recycle material from time to time. Words and phrases get reused, sometimes deliberately, sometimes because I can’t think of anything better to say. Sometimes you want to say something nice about a song you like, but it is hard to put your finger on exactly why you like the song, so you just pick one of a number of stock phrases. I think the word that I am personally most guilty of overusing is “melancholy.”
Once again this word will be overused, this time in reviewing a recording of the instrument that perhaps best expresses melancholy: the cello. This cello is performed by distinguished Latvian artist Māris Villerušs on the exhaustive two compact disc set Spēlē Māris Villerušs.
I first became acquainted with Villerušs through his performance of the Latvian composer Jānis Ivanovs’ “Cello Concerto.” While unfortunately not included in this set, the full cello concerto with Villerušs can be heard on the Campion CD Janis Ivanovs: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2 (Campion Records 2009). Besides being a fan of Ivanovs, the cello performance made me a fan of Villerušs as well. When I saw Spēlē Māris Villerušs at the record store, I had to pick it up.
And I was not disappointed. The set contains approximately two and a half hours of melancholy cello goodness! The recordings focus on the cello in a chamber music setting, with piano or solo cello. They also run the gamut from the baroque (a “Concerto for Cello” by Antonio Vivaldi) to the modern (Latvian composer Maija Einfelde’s “Monologue for Cello and Piano”) to just about everything in between. You can have your pick of Spanish (Isaac Albeniz’s “Malaguena”), French (Gabriel Faure’s “Revival” or Claude Debussy’s “Minstrelsy”), Russian (a few each from Sergei Rachmaninov and Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky, including the full “Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Major” by Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky’s “Nocturne”). The Latvian representatives on this disc, though few, are Jāzeps Mediņš’ “Maza serenāde” (Little Serenade) and “Ārija” (Aria), as well as the aforementioned Einfelde piece. Villerušs proves himself to be capable of performing pieces from many different composers, over many different genres.
Accompaning Villerušs on piano on most of the recordings is his wife, Inta. One of my favorite tracks is the Karl Maria von Weber “Rondo.” Though short, it shows the cellist’s technical ability, as well as the interplay between the cello and the piano.
The recordings also span many different decades. They are all taken from the immense archives of Latvian Radio, which are full of some of the best performances by Latvian artists. The oldest recordings on the CD date back to 1962. Villerušs’ durability as a performer cannot be questioned—he has been playing now for better than half a century, and is still going strong.
The only orchestral work on the album is the Vivaldi “Cello Concerto.” It is performed with the Latvian Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Tovijs Lifšics. It has been said that when you’ve heard one Vivaldi concerto, you have heard them all. Although many baroque compositions are “simpler” than music that came later, I think that makes them difficult to perform well. Though the melodies might be simple, only the best performers can make the work truly compelling. Starting with the sad and easy melody of the first movement, Villerušs is able to keep your attention throughout the entire concerto.
Another favorite is Mediņš’ “Ārija.” Once again accompanied by his wife, Villerušs is best qualified to performing this beautifully haunting melody.
Villerušs’ biography is provided in the liner notes by Oļģerts Grāvītis. The liner notes also have the dates of recording for each of the pieces.
This expansive collection is highly recommended for any cello fans or any fans of Latvian classical music. It reinforces why the cello is one of my (and many other people’s) favorite instruments. The cello in the hands of the best cello players provides a truly moving experience. Two full CDs of some of the best cello playing by Māris Villerušs—how could you go wrong?
Spēlē Māris Villerušs
Radio SWH Ieraksti, 2003
On the Web
The Web site for Radio SWH ieraksti, a branch of one of Latvia’s most popular radio
stations. The recording company released the two-disc set featuring the work of cellist
Māris Villerušs. LV
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