Vasks: Mate saule; Three Poems by Czeslaw Milosz; Zemgale; Madrigals; Litene; Dona nobis pacem

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COMPOSERS: Vasks
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Mate saule; Three Poems by Czeslaw Milosz; Zemgale; Madrigals; Litene; Dona nobis pacem
PERFORMER: Latvian Radio Choir/Sigvards Klava, Kaspars Putninš; Aivars Kalejs (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1145
Mate saule is Mother Sun – and Peteris Vasks worships her. Any meeting or interview with the Latvian composer is likely to end up with a tramp through the forests or a swim in the Baltic. And much of Vasks’s music is a meditation on the eternal attributes of Nature, in a continuum of life which stretches beyond the fever and the fret of his own fast-changing world.

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Mate saule is an early choral work, its voices oscillating like the shimmer of a sun slowly rising from the horizon, and lit by flares and fragments of chant. Vasks’s choral music has tended to be instrumental in texture, focusing on the overall mood rather than the specific verbal activity of any text he is setting.

The ‘white diatonicism’ of Mate saule gives way to more disturbed, aleatoric harmonies and more disruptive textures as political change and human turmoil take centre stage in the late Eighties in Zemgale, a song about the anguished dilemmas of exile.

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This is a subject at the very core of the work of the Polish-Lithuanian writer Czeslaw Milosz (now resident in the USA); and the three poems set by Vasks in 1994 receive their world premiere recording. They were originally written for the Hilliard Ensemble: here the excellent Latvian Radio Choir works with concentrated focus on the spare harmonies and elusive metres which recreate the wonder of three transient moments out of time. Hilary Finch