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Vasks: Piano Works

Vasks: Piano Works

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The love for the Latvian landscape is audible in the piano works of Latvia’s greatest living composer, Peteris Vasks (b. 1946), especially in his Seasons, the composer’s most frequently performed piano work. For this album pianist Reinis Zarinš has brought two other piano works alongside The Seasons as first recordings: Vasks’ early piano work Cycle (Zyklus) from the 1970s, and a new piano work, Cuckoo’s Voice. Spring Elegy (2021), written by the composer for Reinis Zarinš during the pandemic.

Ever since his concerto debut at the age of ten, Reinis Zariņš has performed as a concerto soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician throughout Europe and North America. He has participated in prestigious music festivals including the Lucerne Festival, the Bath International Music Festival, and the Scotia Festival of Music. His thoughtful virtuosity has delighted audiences at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, London’s Wigmore Hall, New York’s Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, and the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow. Reinis has collaborated with leading orchestras including the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, Kremerata Baltica, and the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, and with conductors Pierre Boulez, Peter Eötvös, Pablo Heras-Casado, and Andris Poga, among others.


Alongside the world premiere recording of Vasks’ first-ever piano piece Cycle (1976) and the epic, complete The Seasons — four freestanding works composed between 1980 and 2008 — Cuckoo’s Voice—Spring Elegy (2021) serves to reinforce a sense of the importance to Vasks of his ongoing calling ‘that he must, until his last breath, glorify God’s world and people and his fatherland’, as Zariņš puts it. Yet, while Cycle especially is a welcome reminder of Vasks’ more astringent youthful style, and his writing is never less than intensely felt, there’s little trace here of the outright anguish that has often characterized his better-known string pieces. It’s as if Vasks is writing from inside nature as opposed to merely observing it: there’s an overarching stillness and acceptance within the sometimes dramatic push-pull of growth and decay explored throughout—and the contrasting moods he traverses ultimately nestle within that bigger process, albeit to varying degrees of comfort.

Zariņš’s impeccable pianism is hugely to thank for this, and his capacity to trace cohesive narratives through often lengthy, apparently free-wheeling but rigorously composed, works. Most satisfying is ‘Autumn Music’ (1981) which looks stylistically backwards and forwards even as it rounds The Seasons and the album itself.

-- BBC Music Magazine

This has the premiere recordings of Zyklus (Cycle) from 1976 and Cuckoo’s Voice. Spring Elegy from 2021. Cuckoo’s Voice is improvisatory and generally meditative, though it does have a few clamorous climaxes. Then Cycle bursts in with notes firing as if from a machine gun, taunting and acerbic. Its pauses are foreboding. Zarins brings out some impressive sounds from the insides of the piano: gradations of pizzicato and a pulsing, ringing “wub-wub-wub” from some low frequencies at the end of the ‘Prologue’. Most string-plucking from pianists sounds awkward, but Zarins gets loveliness out of it, even evoking a zither in the ‘Nocturne’. The repetitive rumblings and clattering chords of ‘Drama’ are too close to pompous avant-garde pounding for my taste, though I have to admit that Vasks manages to preserve his own Baltic voice through it all. The ‘Epilogue’ ties the preceding movements together and ends with what sounds like bricks dropping onto the strings.

The Seasons clocks in at 52 minutes. ‘White Scenery’ is a somewhat minimalist reverie, while ‘Spring Music’ goes for nearly 20 minutes, rippling and ringing and shaking the whole world by the collar with vernal urgency. This spring is the opposite of the English pastoral type and more like a tempered, transparent version of one of Messiaen’s bird-song pieces. The harmonies of ‘Green Scenery’ veer closer to England, but the repeated chords soon turn to tedium. Irritation turns to exasperation in ‘Autumn Music’ and its unending strings of repeated notes similar to tremolo on a guitar. It is more bearable when I concentrate on it (rather than, say, listening to it in the car), but rarely has a piece driven me up the wall so quickly.

Zarins’s playing is superb, and any Vasks fan will want this.

-- American Record Guide (Stephen Page)

Pianist Reinis Zarinš impresses with evocative music-making. In coaxing beautiful colors from the piano, he renders well the more subtle as well as the more immediate moods of the music.

-- Pizzicato

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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 1
    • Release Date:
    • Label: Ondine
    • UPC/Barcode: 761195136126
    • Item Number: ODE 1361-2