“I consider empathy for the sufferings of the world to be my works’ point of departure”. This quotation from the Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks sums up his approach to his music, making a specific reference to the horrors endured by the Latvian people in the wake of the Second World War.
It also infuses the orchestral music on this disc, played by the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra conducted by Atvars Lakstīgala.
What’s the music like?
These three orchestral pieces are certainly borne from Vasks’ statement, to the extent that his music incorporates both the suffering and paranoid trepidation of Shostakovich and the national pride of Sibelius. Crucially there is room for his own style too, and as Sala begins there are beautiful solos for clarinet and flute. That said it is the one assigned to the cor anglais that really sets the mood of contemplation, being the most substantial and leaves a lasting impact.
The show of strength from the strings to open Musica appassionata illustrates just why Vasks’ music has achieved its popularity, for his prowess in orchestration is immediately clear, as well as a capacity for instantly setting a scene and generating emotion.
Perhaps not surprisingly the spiritual aspects of Vasks’ writing are at their most concentrated in the Credo, which harnesses a massive battery of percussion at its climax points. This is relatively slow moving music but at these points the amount of energy unleashed is truly impressive, and would work especially well in the concert hall. Here it is very well played by Latvian forces.
Does it all work?
Largely, yes. For those who want a route into tonal contemporary music, Vasks is a good way to start, for he writes in a direct manner that makes an immediate if not wholly lasting impact. These orchestral works capture the deep feeling of pieces by Shostakovich and Sibelius, as mentioned above, if not quite containing the memorable melodies those composers were capable of writing.
Is it recommended?
Yes. For the age in which we live, Vasks captures the mood of appreciating strength and beauty in the face of adversity and atrocity.
Listen on Spotify
You can hear this disc on Spotify here: