Vasks: String Quartets Nos 1-3

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COMPOSERS: Vasks
LABELS: Challenge Classics
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 1-3
PERFORMER: Navarra Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CC 72365

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The musical landscape of Peteris Vasks’s three Quartets is populated by a variety of striking images, some exploring moods of suffering, despair, anger and aggression, others providing consolation through a retreat into nature (the haunting aural representation of birdsong) or by making reference to liturgical music (for example the hymn-like cantilenas that are prevalent in many slow movements).

This emotional mix is most powerfully distilled in the Third Quartet completed in 1995. Here Vasks employs a simpler, more tonally orientated style than in the earlier works. The allusions to Latvian folk music are particularly strong in the rhythmically propulsive second movement which returns in the Finale like a rather sinister ghost.

However the real heart of the work is surely the lyrically intense Adagio third movement, its grief-stricken threnody invoking the kind of bleak and lonely world that is familiar in works like Shostakovich’s Eighth Quartet. On the surface the first two Quartets, employing aleatoric passages, frequent glissandos and extreme contrasts in texture are more radical pieces, but their message remains just as direct.

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All three works, recorded in the presence of the composer, are projected with almost graphic immediacy by the Navarra Quartet who deliver compelling performances captured here in extremely vivid sound. Overall, then, this disc comes hotly recommended. Erik Levi