PĒTERIS VASKS (b.1946): Cuckoo’s Voice. Spring Elegy, Cycle, The Seasons.
Catalogue Number: 05X066
Reference: ODE 1361-2
Description: This disc brings together Vasks' first and most recent piano works, and his magnum opus for the instrument. Cycle was written in 1976 when Vasks was 30 and thus already a completely accomplished musician. Some aspects of the four-movement composition might come as a shock to those who think they know what the mature composer sounds like, with his declared intent of " …until his last breath, glorify[ing] God’s world and people and his fatherland that inspires him more than anything else." This is the work of a fiery young modernist, still finding his individual idiom as a composer but capable of powerful and vehement expression in whatever style suited him. Violent, shocking clusters and dissonances, repeated, pounding gestures and "extended" playing on the strings are used very effectively in tense, high voltage displays of pianistic ferocity. However there is a cohesive linearity of argument throughout even the most violent sections, and by contrast there are also episodes of simplicity and consonant beauty which clearly foreshadow the "new spirituality" direction that the composer’s music would subsequently take. Cuckoo’s voice: Spring elegy was written for this pianist and this recording last year, while Vasks was suffering (pre-vaccine) and recovering (thankfully) from Covid. Beginning and ending with the call of the cuckoo, important in Latvian folklore, this gorgeously neo-romantic piece celebrates the arrival of spring as, first, a gently sombre elegy, gradually growing brighter, warmer and more luminous. A powerful exultant climax marks the life-affirming flowering of the new year - and more than likely a hymn of thanks and praise for Vasks' own return to life after the passing of the virus' icy grip. Vasks' most ambitious piano work, the four movements of The Seasons were written between 1980 and 2008, beginning with winter, then autumn, and ending with summer when the composer decided to arrange them into the final complete cycle. The cycle begins with the frozen utter stillness of winter, the expectant pure white page on which all the possibilities of the year are to be written. The most ambitious and longest piece is Spring Music, virtuosic and demanding, beginning with the calm and tranquility of winter before a few green shoots appear, a bird sings, and the ice begins to crack and melt in gushing streams of Lisztian bravura. Soon the burgeoning new life explodes in a riot of greenery and a torrent of birdsong, almost violent in its ecstatic eruption into the sunlight. The piece ends in blazing triumph, unleashing the full resources of the riotous pandemonium of the composer’s modernist period, held in reserve since the early works of twenty years before. Green Scenery, the summer piece, is emphatically in the major mode, celebratory and triumphant (and oddly reminiscent of Foulds' April-England, presumably by complete coincidence). Chill breezes and flurries announce the arrival of Autumn Music; a violent September storm blows up which subsides into a sense of sadness and departure before the breathless calm of winter is restored. Reinis Zariņš (piano).