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Pēteris Vasks: Piano Works

Reinis Zariņš (piano) (Ondine)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Pēteris Vasks
Piano Works – Cuckoo’s Voice; Cycle; The Seasons
Reinis Zariņš (piano)
Ondine ODE 1361-2   80:32 mins

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There’s no sign that Pēteris Vasks’s prodigious creative output is slowing in his 76th year. Even succumbing to Covid did not prevent him completing his commission from fellow Latvian Reinis Zariņš for Cuckoo’s Voice – Spring Elegy (2021), the contemplative new piece that opens this album of solo piano works. Indeed, 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 – the piece 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 characterised 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.

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Steph Power