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Pēteris Vasks: Cello Concerto No. 2; Viola Concerto etc

Lilli Maijala (viola), Marko Ylönen (cello); Tallinn Chamber Orchestra/Juha Kangas (Alba)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Pēteris Vasks
Cello Concerto No. 2, Presence; Viola Concerto
Lilli Maijala (viola), Marko Ylönen (cello); Tallinn Chamber Orchestra/Juha Kangas
Alba ABCD463   75:33 mins


Vasks’s string writing goes to the heart of his purpose as a composer – and the concertos on this enterprising recording from conductor Juha Kangas and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra are rapidly becoming classics. Both are intense outpourings fuelled by the shared anguish and beauty of the composer’s beloved Latvia; freed in 1991 from Soviet rule yet, he fears, still at risk from dangers political, environmental and spiritual.

The Cello Concerto No. 2 (2011-12) is subtitled ‘Klātbūtne’ (Presence). Vasks has explained this means, ‘With every breath I am here in this world with all my ideals and dreams of a better world.’ Soloist Marko Ylönen brings a savage intensity to the work’s emotional arc from birth, via death and cosmic release, to rebirth signalled by a lullaby (soulfully sung by orchestra violinist Eva-Maria Sumera). Cast in three movements, slow-fast-slow, the off-kilter Baltic rhythms of the second, Allegro moderato, have a rawness that reaches apotheosis in a brittle yet passionate cadenza.

The Viola Concerto (2013-14) is equally fierce in the capable hands of soloist Lilli Maijala, who infuses its urgency with a dark tenderness. Vasks describes the viola as ‘the most melancholy instrument’ and Maijala wrings pathos from each of the four movements; three of which are slow, but with constantly changing metres and tempos as the viola struggles to find light in darkness.

Throughout, the orchestra plays with verve, so it’s a pity that the soloists are placed so considerably to the fore in the mix.

Steph Power

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