Ives, Vasks: Symphony No. 2; Violin Concerto

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LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Violin Concerto
PERFORMER: John Storgårds (violin); Tampere PO/John Storgårds, Ostrobothnian CO/Juha Kangas
It’s hard to know what to say when music provokes such bewilderingly diverse reactions. There are parts of both these works that are genuinely stirring or atmospheric, and the apparent simplicity can conceal refined musical craft. The long, Shostakovich-like lamenting instrumental recitatives in the Latvian composer Peteris Vasks’s Second Symphony are particularly effective and – despite the resemblance to the older Soviet composer – the impression is of a strongly personal utterance. The eloquent playing of the Tampere Philharmonic and of violinist John Storgårds in the Concerto obviously helps, as do the sympathetic recordings. But alongside these unarguably successful passages there are others where – well, I suspect it’s another case of one person’s telling simplicity being another’s banality. For me the primitive fortissimo chant that begins the symphony and continually interrupts it is pure B-movie popcorn. If it’s meant to be ironic, I missed the message. And some of the percussion-writing sounds to me like cosmetic modernism – applied to the musical surface for no very clear reason. The Violin Concerto is more convincing, though there are still a few ideas that grate. Stephen Johnson