Vivid works of Latvian composer Plakidis a rich musical legacy

Latvian composer Pēteris Plakidis, who passed away in 2017, left a rich musical legacy. His oeuvre included chamber music, choir music, as well as symphonic music. To highlight his achievements in symphonic composition, the Latvian national record label Skani released the album Atskatīšanās (or Glance Back) in 2019, which collected four of Plakidis’ symphonic works performed by the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Vassily Sinaisky.

Dziedājums, composed in 1986 and dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the LNSO, is full of drama and tension, from the piercing strings that open the work, which are then enhanced with the calls of the trumpets. The brass instruments then present their own discordant sounds in a kind of dialogue with the lighter melodies in the woodwinds. Plakidis regularly alternates between softer melodies and discordant bursts of sound throughout the work, giving the work an ominous feel, that, at any moment, the calm can be broken by a crash of sound. At the midway point, the work reaches its climax, with the strings sounding like an alarm in their relentless performance, which again leads to a moment of calm in the woodwinds and harp performance. The work is punctuated by the sound of a bass guitar, which, with its atypical sound for a symphonic work, adds to the unease. The intensity continues all the way to the conclusion, and only in the closing moments does an air of calmness prevail. Conductor Sinaisky and the LNSO provide for a memorable and nuanced interpretation of this fluid and dynamic work.

Plakidis composed Variācijas orķestrim (or Variations for Orchestra) in 1996, and here again the listener must use their imagination to understand what the variations even are. A tender yet somber descending melody in the strings begins the work, which is then taken over by the woodwinds. An air of mysteriousness arises with the extended performance of the strings, which leads into a deliberate, almost aggressive performance in the brass instruments. An extended interlude gives the work a mystical feel, with brief bursts of activity in all the instruments, but this transforms into an almost grotesque march, with shrieking strings and brass supplemented by thundering percussion.

The composer was known for being very tight-lipped about his works, offering little in terms of explanation or detail about what a work might be about. The CD booklet is then, perhaps appropriately, light on detail on the works, leaving the listener to reach their own conclusions about what the composer was trying to say through his music. The earliest work on the CD – Leģenda (or ‘Legend’), composed in 1976, is also probably the most enigmatic of the four works, perhaps due to the era it was composed (still well into the Soviet occupation of Latvia, as well as the era of stagnation in the Soviet Union). The work begins with a sound like raindrops in the percussion, which is then joined by what might be the sound of birds in the strings. The orchestra does indeed seem to tell a story, and the performance of the LNSO guides the listener through this tale, giving a vibrant vitality to Plakidis’ tale, but it is up to the listener to fill in the details of the story itself.

The appropriately reflective Atskatīšanās (or ‘Glance Back’) closes out this collection. Composed in 1991, at the time Latvia regained its independence during the upheaval in the former Soviet Union, perhaps Plakidis intended this work to be also a kind of a dividing line – between his compositions under the Soviet cultural system and the new, independent Latvian culture. Mystical elements return in this composition, with the sound of the woodwinds akin to a song of conjuring. Still, there are elements of unease and uncertainty, and the work builds to a dramatic crescendo, with tolling of bells to accentuate the somber atmosphere. The music slowly dissipates at the conclusion, perhaps indicating an uncertain, elusive future.

The loss of Pēteris Plakidis in 2017 was a significant loss to Latvian academic music and culture. Though not a prolific composer, the works he did compose were monumental and vivid, and this is confirmed by the recordings on Atskatīšanās. The Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Vassily Sinaisky, reveal the many facets and textures of Plakidis’ works, confirming him as a singular orchestral composer.

For further information, please visit the Skani website

Pēteris Plakidis – Atskatīšanās

Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, Vassily Sinaisky conductor

LMIC/SKANI 076, 2019

Track listing:

  1. Dziedājums
  2. Variācijas orķestrim
  3. Leģenda
  4. Atskatīšanās

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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