This is the world premiere recording of Vasks' second symphony. It is a 40-minute, one-movement work which opens with a glorious bang, with the orchestra at its most powerful and busy. A few minutes in, Vasks offers us repose which is almost religious, there is a buildup and then more reflection, and a long crescendo to great might again. The work ends on a beautifully introspective, soft, haunting refrain. Vasks is primarily a Romantic, so the work is tonal; there are touches of Kancheli (but not as much breast-beating), Shostakovich (again, not as pessimistic).
By his own admission, emotion is central to the music of Peteris Vasks, though his intense outpourings are far from amorphous or undisciplined rhapsodies. Rather, his most passionate works are tempered by an appreciation of tradition and a practical awareness of instrumental techniques, timbres, and orchestral textures. Neo-Romanticism plainly dominates Vasks' works from the last quarter of the twentieth century, and this is revealed in the quasi-Mahlerian essays for string orchestra, Cantabile (1979) and Musica dolorosa (1983), the lush and brilliantly orchestrated Cor Anglais Concerto (1989), and the aspiring, suspension-filled Lauda (1986).
Pēteris Vasks has described the organ as the most expressive instrument of all. He feels that a composer living in Riga is duty bound to write music for the famous Walcker organ at Riga Cathedral. The instrument dates from 1883 and has 24 stops with four manuals and two pedalboards and a total of 6,718 pipes. The organ has been preserved in its original state.
The music of Peteris Vasks must be considered against the background of the socially and politically turbulent history of his home country Latvia. It frequently shifts through contrasting emotional states, with passages of sumptuous beauty sometimes followed by disjointed and dramatic sounds. According to Vasks, all three of the works for violin and orchestra featured here represent the polarity between optimistic hope for a better future and an anxious concern for the modern world. Included are the fantasia Vox Amoris, the concerto Tala gaisma (Distant Light), Vasks' first and most extensive work for violin and string orchestra and the tone poem Vientulais engelis (Lonely Angel). All are performed by the exceptional violinist Alina Pogostkina, superbly accompanied by the Sinfonietta Riga under the direction of Juha Kangas.
Latvian composer Peteris Vasks, who for much of his career worked under the constraints of the Soviet system, sees composition as a political act and hopes that his music might be a vehicle for national healing. He has written, "I have always dreamed that my music would be heard in the places where unhappy people are gathered." Much of Vasks' work is soulfully meditative, as are most of the movements of these string quartets, the first three of the five ……Stephen Eddins @ AllMusic.com
The Russian-born violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky, who founded the New European Strings Chamber Orchestra in 1990, has enthusiastically practiced the art of transcription for many years, producing more than 25 new string arrangements of chamber and keyboard works. This is Sitkovetsky’s first project for Nonesuch, a creative adaptation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations for strings, cast a fresh light on that formidable monument of keyboard music. The New York Times called it “robust, joyous and full of insight.”