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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Pēteris Vasks - Piano Trio; Piano Quartet (Trio Parnassus)


Composer: Pēteris Vasks
  • (01-08) Episodi e Canto perpetuo, for violin, cello & piano
  • (09-14) Quartet for violin, viola, cello & piano

Trio Parnassus
Yamei Yu, violin
Michael Groß, cello
Chia Chou, piano
Avri Levitan, viola (9-14)

Date: 2008
Label: Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm



Péteris Vasks belongs to the grouping of Eastern European composers who were trained in the Soviet era (he was born in Latvia in 1946), and have, since the fall of the iron curtain, amalgamated modernistic (formerly banished) elements into their aural palette. The work of such composers as Pärt, Gubaidulina, Silvestrov, and Górecki, while very different in important ways, all share a depth of expression reflecting a dark world view and life experience that does not occur in the music of their Western colleagues. Vasks wrote this piano trio in 1985; he describes it as “a painful journey through misery, disappointment and suffering towards love,” and dedicates the piece to Olivier Messiaen. The French master’s influence is all over this beautiful work, with many echoes from the Quatuor pour le fin de temps . There are the huge cluster chords on the piano, the oddly lurching rhythmic effects, and most tellingly, grand, arching crescendos of intense emotional power, reminiscent of Messiaen’s two magnificent louanges (praises) from the Quartet.

The Quartet (it is a piano quartet), completed 16 years later, begins in a generally more jaunty way, incorporating what sound like folk-dance elements, in the manner of Bartók. It is not without the singular expressiveness of the composer, however, especially in the canti that are at the heart of the six-movement work. The language of the music is more approachable than the 1985 work, but it is as uncompromising in depth of expression. The more jagged edges of the earlier music make it more interesting to me, though, particularly in the rhythmic structure. None of this is what I would call easy listening, nor was it intended to be.

Performances by the German ensemble Trio Parnassus, as well as by Israeli violist Avri Levitan in the Quartet, are superbly committed and vibrant, and MDG, as usual, captures them in rich, natural sound.

-- Peter Burwasser, FANFARE

More reviews:


Pēteris Vasks (born 16 April 1946 in Aizpute, Latvia) is a Latvian composer. He trained as a violinist and a double-bass player and played in several Latvian orchestras before entering the State Conservatory in Vilnius in Lithuania to study composition with Valentin Utkin. He started to become known outside Latvia in the 1990s, when Gidon Kremer started championing his works and now is one of the most influential and praised European contemporary composers. Vasks's compositions incorporate archaic, folklore elements from Latvian music with the language of contemporary music.


Trio Parnassus (formed 1982 in Stuttgart, Germany) has maintained a reputation as one of the finest piano trios in Germany from the latter-twentieth and early-twenty first centuries despite a fair number of personnel changes. While the ensemble plays standards from the Classical and Romantic periods, as well as many twentieth century and contemporary works, it has also devoted much time to the rediscovery of forgotten compositions by nineteenth century composers. By 2010, the ensemble had recorded the complete piano trios of over 20 composers, ranging from Mozart to Gade to Vasks.


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