The music of 74-year-old Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks has been cleverly described as “gunfire and chorales” by leader of Britain’s Navarra Quartet Magnus Johnston. As the son of a clergyman, Vasks suffered under the harsh Soviet regime. His music is, the composer says, an illustration of how the artist can “find a way out of the crisis of his time, towards affirmation, towards faith”.
Distant Light, a violin concerto written in the late 1990s and dedicated to fellow Latvian Gidon Kremer, formed the memorable climax of the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s “Luminous” concert, a selection of works performed in conjunction with the haunting and sometimes disturbing photographs of Bill Henson. The five-part concerto, played as a single continuous movement, is performed magnificently by Vadim Gluzman on this album.
Equally enjoyable are the Summer Dances which follow. These seven miniatures for two solo violins summon up suggestions of Bartók in folk song mode, although the melodies here are original. Gluzman and Sandis Steinbergs’ violins interweave and duel sumptuously and irresistibly.
Hazy harmonies from piano and strings open the arch-like 2001 Piano Quartet for violin, viola, cello and piano, which closes the programme. The uncertain mood doesn’t last long as the prelude gives way to a Praetorius-like dance, followed by a dramatic “canti” movement, a nightmarish passacaglia that Britten would have been proud of, another songlike section – the longest and most beautiful of the six movements – and finally a consolatory postludio.
This enthralling disc comes with a warning that it is long at 85 minutes and you might need to backtrack and hit play to hear this movement on a CD player.
Gluzman, who was born in Ukraine and divides his time between Chicago and Israel when COVID permits, was mentored by Isaac Stern and plays in the great Russian tradition with a rich and honeyed, even tone on his 1695 Stradivarius. Hannu Lintu’s direction of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra is exemplary and violist Ilze Klava, cellist Reinis Birznieks and pianist Angela Yoffe – a regular collaborator with Gluzman – bring this survey of the shock and awe of Vasks’ musical world to a fitting close.
Works: Distant Light, Piano Quartet, Summer Dances
Performers: Vadim Gluzman v, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
Label: BIS BIS2352