ARTURS MASKATS (b.1957) : Accordion Concerto, Tango, Cantus Diatonicus, My River Runs to Thee…
Catalogue Number: 01Y009
Description: Maskats is an outstanding neo-romantic composer with a highly engaging, thoroughly accessible, tonal idiom, and an appealing sense of the theatrical and dramatic. He is drawn to Southern European and Latin cultures, which form an intriguing foil to his rôle as a Latvian cultural icon. Tango is apparently his most performed and widely successful work, and it is easy to see why. The work thrillingly explores the many facets of the dance, with its undertones of passion, danger, sentiment, sexuality and violence in a series of colourful tableaux, separated by a passage of expectant, ominous tapping. The rich orchestral textures that Ravel brought to the waltz, Maskats applies to the tango; the profusion of saturated colours and uninhibited extroversion suggest Khachaturian, while elements of Piazzolla's Tango Nuevo bring an added level of drama and excitement. The first section is sultry and seductive, growing in intensity to a powerful, grandiose climax. A brief interlude prefaces the second main section, which is fast, exhilarating and exciting, with thrilling evocations of Piazzolla’s exuberant bandoneón gestures woven into the orchestral textures. This is interrupted by the ominous tapping from the beginning, which leads to a gently romantic "slow movement" tinged with melancholy. The tempo picks up again, with an insistently propulsive climax - the drama has spilled out of the dance halls and bars onto the dark streets, and knives are drawn. An accordion brings a moment of reflective innocence, before the action resumes to drive the music to a vigorous conclusion. The accordion has an important rôle in Tango, and other works by Maskats, but not invariably in its Latin context. The 2021 Accordion Concerto, Ko stāstīja vējš pār jūru (What the Wind Told Over the Sea), dedicated to Ksenija Sidorova, is very much a work of Northern climes; the sea here is the stormy, icy, windswept Baltic, with its unearthly beauty when becalmed, not the sunny Mediterranean. Like all Maskats' works, this one is tonal and orchestrally and harmonically sumptuous, with ready appeal and instant approachability, but it is a serious concerto rather than a diverting entertainment, with a pronounced sense of dramaturgy and atmosphere. The first movement opens mysteriously and becalmed, with sudden interjections that seem intended for no other purpose than to make the audience jump. A brief stormy climax rises, and is soon quelled, and the movement ends in lyrical calm. The following allegretto begins as a jaunty scherzo, the solo instrument enjoying its dance origins for the only time in the work. A powerful tempest sweeps away the revelry, leading to a serene slow section, in turn replaced by a rapid-running toccata. The following movement is marked "Blues" but has more the character of a slow melodic ballad. A brief swelling climax introduces the cadenza, the accordion exploring its ability to emulate a fairground organ. A vigorous, sparkling toccata follows, like the play of light on waves. This is abruptly extinguished, and the concerto ends in the gently mysterious atmosphere of the opening. Cantus Diatonicus was Maskats' graduation thesis from the Latvian Academy of Music in 1982. The title may suggest "new spirituality", and there is something of this in the warm, glowing tone poem, dedicated in spirit to the composer’s godmother at a time of illness. The work has a certain Romantic robustness of gesture, though; at the end it quotes the Latvian folksong Saulīt tecēj tecēdama (The Sun Flowed) in the clear bell-tones of the celesta. Aside from his proud embrace of his Latvian identity and his fascination with Southern cultures, poetry is a major source of inspiration for Maskats, and that of Emily Dickinson is an especial enthusiasm of long standing. He writes: "Dickinson was a revelation to me. Also, I began to better understand English and I could sense the many meanings in every word of hers. What a hidden and, at the same time, deeply passionate world!" The substantial tone poem My River runs to thee takes its title from Dickinson's poem "My River runs to thee — / Blue Sea! Wilt welcome me? / My River waits reply — / Oh Sea — look graciously — / I’ll fetch thee Brooks / From spotted nooks — / Say — Sea — Take Me!" The work is as rich in atmosphere, symbolism, and mystery as Dickinson's poem; sumptuously Romantic, its flowing aquatic imagery, like a kind of Latvian "Vltava", depict both the power of many waters, and the passage of the human soul, or as the composer says, “In my belief, the river here represents life, freedom, definitely also love. It is, in every way, something that we are given from above and rules our life." Ksenija Sidorova, accordion, Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, Andris Poga, conductor.