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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Pēteris Vasks - Symphony No. 1; etc. (Rudolf Werthen)


Composer: Pēteris Vasks
  1. Musica Dolorosa for String Orchestra
  2. Cantabile for String Orchestra
  3. Lauda
  4. Voices, Symphony for String Orchestra: I. Klusuma balsis (Voices of Silence)
  5. Voices, Symphony for String Orchestra: II. Dzivibas balsis (Voices of Life)
  6. Voices, Symphony for String Orchestra: III. Sirdsapzinas balsis (Voices of Conscience)

I Fiamminghi, The Orchestra of Flanders
Rudolf Werthen, conductor

Date: 1997
Label: Telarc



“Latvia has never had a Sibelius or a Grieg ... as its musical spokesperson,” explains Richard Rodda in the booklet, “so it is of special significance that Peteris Vasks has begun to receive international recognition just at the time of the country’s newly won independence.” That begs a serious question: is Vasks’s new-found fame entirely musical in origin, or at least partly the consequence of political necessity, and/or external curiosity about a hitherto largely overlooked country? The same could have been true at the start for Grieg and Sibelius, of course (Norway and Finland both achieved political freedom in their lifetimes), so only time will tell in the case of Vasks. Gut feeling suggests he is not of their stature (is it an accident that Vasks is the only Latvian composer to have emerged into wider view, whereas a gaggle of Lithuanians and especially Estonians – think just of Part, Tormis, Tuur – have appeared on disc?), though there is no denying his compositional skill, and the immediacy of appeal of works such as Musica dolorosa (1983) or the symphony Stimmen (“Voices”, 1990-91) which, allied to a not-too-radical musical idiom, probably explains the recording industry’s sustained interest.

If you have not encountered Vasks before, then I Fiamminghi’s excellently played disc is a very good place to start. They have the technical edge over their rivals from Riga on Conifer, and Rudolf Werthen, who has a tendency to adopt swifter tempos than other conductors, has the interpretative measure of the music (more so than Kangas). Rusmanis and especially Aleksa achieve perhaps the greater intensity, but I would have to recommend this newcomer due to the strength of the performances. The Ostrobothnians, though, give the most precise accounts of all, in programmes mixing works from Lithuania and Estonia as well, but I Fiamminghi’s, which includes the splendid, uplifting Lauda (1986, the only work here not just for strings), is more satisfying.

-- Gramophone

More reviews:
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: ***** / SOUND: ****


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.


Rudolf Werthen is a well-known Belgian violinist and conductor. As a violinist, he is considered an heir to the Belgian violin school, exemplified by the great virtuoso Eugéne Ÿsaye. In 1984, he co-founded I Fiamminghi as a string orchestra and has led it ever since. The orchestra concentrates on Romantic era and later repertory, and is especially known for his championing of the music of the post-serial era of such composers as Kancheli, Hovhaness, Vasks, and Pärt. Werthen is also a member of the faculty of the Royal Music Conservatory of Ghent, where he has taught since in 1975.


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