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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Pēteris Vasks - Symphony No. 2; Violin Concerto (John Storgårds)


Composer: Pēteris Vasks
  1. Symphony No. 2
  2. Violin Concerto 'Tālā gaisma' (Distant Light)

John Storgårds, conductor (1) & violin (2)
Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra (1)
Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra (2)
Juha Kangas, conductor (2)

Date: 2003
Label: Ondine



Music to engage both heart and head, passionately played

The Latvian composer Peteris Vasks (b1946) has been winning himself something of a cult following over the past decade. On the evidence of this blistering première recording, his Second Symphony of 1998-99 (jointly commissioned by the BBC and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra) seems set to repeat the popular and critical success of Voices, its hugely effective 1991 predecessor for string orchestra.

A single-movement canvas of nearly 40 minutes’ duration, it traversesemotions from bare-faced rage and serene contemplation to icy despair, achieving a vast, uneasy quietude at the close (‘a sense of light-filled sorrow,’ in the composer’s words). Stylistic echoes are plentiful: during my listening, I jotted down the names of Shostakovich, Kancheli, Górecki and Pärt; folk-music, birdsong and hymnody are further ingredients in this approachable cocktail. Fortunately, Vasks’s compassionate inspiration eschews any hint of new-age pretentiousness or designer chic, conveying instead a strength of conviction, unflinching honesty and profound sense of wonder that easily hold the listener in its thrall. All of which, of course, is also testament to the formidable interpretative skills of conductor John Storgårds, who secures exemplary results from the Tampere Philharmonic. The sound is splendidly ample and detailed to match.

For the coupling, Storgårds assumes the mantle of soloist with the Ostrobothnian CO under Juha Kangas in a heartfelt performance of Vasks’s Violin Concerto (Distant Light). Written in 1996-97 at the behest of Gidon Kremer and his then recently formed Kremerata Baltica, this is another single-movement, readily assimilable essay, though its at times enigmatically disparate elements (not least a modal tang intriguingly reminiscent of Vaughan Williams and Finzi) are here perhaps less convincingly fused into a satisfying whole. Kremer’s mesmerically beautiful and abundantly charismatic première recording leaves a rather less sprawling impression than this commendable newcomer, the music’s melancholy, nostalgia and chaste purity held in shrewder equilibrium. That said, admirers of Vasks will, I suspect, want both performances. This enterprising release deserves every success.

-- Andrew Achenbach, 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.


John Storgårds (born 20 October 1963 in Helsinki) is a Finnish violinist and conductor. Storgårds studied violin with Esther Raitio and Jouko Ignatius, and study conducting with Jorma Panula and Eri Klas at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. He was Chief Conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra from 2008 to 2015. Storgårds was also Chief Conductor of the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra from 2006 to 2009. He has made a number of international recordings for Ondine, Sony and BIS Records.


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