Vasks: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3

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COMPOSERS: Vasks
LABELS: Conifer
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3
PERFORMER: Miami String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 75605 51334 2
Peteris Vasks’ three quartets span nearly 20 years of his development as a composer. Though the first quartet was revised in 1997, its origins go back to 1977, when at the start of his career the Latvian-born composer’s music was attempting to reconcile what he knew of relatively radical figures like Lutoslawski and Penderecki with his own more directly communicative, melodic inclinations. The turbulence of the short opening Intrada has the freewheeling outwardness that is so typical of music upon the idea of controlled chance, while the second interperses busy motoric textures with short bursts of Shostakovich-like melodic; the third is unambiguously founded upon a strong, simply-contoured melodic idea.

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The stylistic juxtapositions are sometimes self-conscious in that early work, but by the time of the second quartet in 1984 the amalgam is more convincingly coherent; perhaps the success of his fellow countryman Arvo Part had given Vasks the confidence to let his music say what came most naturally. There are still sudden changes of language, but the more radical outbursts seem essentially decorative and the heart of the quartet is unambiguously in the openly expressive material, and that continues in the Third Quartet, with its textural transparency and moments of rapt meditation; it’s music of undeniable sincerity at least. Andrew Clements