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Pēteris Vasks: Viola Concerto; Symphony No. 1

Maxim Rysanov (viola); Sinfonietta Riga (BIS)

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Pēteris Vasks
Viola Concerto; Symphony No. 1 ‘Voices’
Maxim Rysanov (viola); Sinfonietta Riga
BIS BIS-2443   65:44 mins


The music of Pēteris Vasks is rooted in his own and fellow Latvians’ suffering under successive external oppressors. Glowingly dark-hued and intensely emotional, it’s a cry of resistance against all forces undermining what he’s described as the ‘spiritual dimension’, embracing ‘beliefs, love and ideals’ and the beauty of nature.

This searing release confirms Vasks’s international stature and, specifically, his affinity for string writing in two works: from 1991 – when Latvia gained independence from the disintegrating USSR – and 2015, a time of renewed challenge and uncertainty.

The latter Concerto for Viola and String Orchestra was composed for soloist/conductor Maxim Rysanov who with the exceptional Sinfonietta Rīga wrings every drop of melancholic yearning from lines of increasing, melody-driven passion. Tonal with chromatic-modal touches – think Gorécki, Shostakovich, even Vaughan Williams – the idiom is nonetheless indubitably Vasks’s and typical in contrasting slow-moving harmonies with dancing Baltic rhythms.

The former Symphony for Strings, Voices – his first, in three movements designated ‘Voices of Silence’, ‘Life’ and ‘Conscience’ – is more angular and less polished in style, with a rawer force. There’s deep fury here, as well as consolation and an inner strength conveying hope. Exquisitely done and essential listening for our times.


Steph Power