About this Recording
8.572634 - VASKS, P.: Flute Concerto / Flute Sonata / Aria e danza / Landscape with Birds (M. Faust, S. Arnold, Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä, P. Gallois)

Pēteris Vasks (b. 1946)
Flute Concerto • Sonata for Flute • Aria e danza • Landscape with Birds


Pēteris Vasks was born in Aizpute, Latvia on 16 April 1946. He attended the Riga Music Academy and the Lithuanian Music Academy in Vilnius where he studied double-bass with Vitautas Sereika. During 1973–78 he studied composition with Valentin Utkin at the Latvian Academy of Music in Riga. From 1963 to 1974 Vasks was a member of the Lithuanian Philharmonic Orchestra (1966–9), Latvian Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra (1969–70) and the Orchestra of Latvian Radio and Television (1971–4). On three occasions he has received the Great Music Award, the highest prize bestowed by the Latvian state in the field of music: in 1993 for Litene, in 1998 for his Violin Concerto ‘Distant Light’, and in 2000 for his Second Symphony. In 1996 he was awarded the Herder Prize of the Alfred Toepfer Foundation in Hamburg and was also designated Principal Composer of the Stockholm Festival of New Music. Since 1994 Vasks has been an honorary member of the Latvian Academy of Sciences and in 2001 became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. During 2004 a recording of his Second Symphony (Ondine) was awarded the Cannes Classical Award in the categories ‘CD of the Year’ and ‘Best Orchestral Work’. Vasks currently resides in Riga where he works as a freelance composer.

Vasks has frequently included archaic and folkloric elements from Latvian music in his compositions. Most of his works have programmatic titles which refer to natural events and occurrences. Most important in his thinking is not the poetic praise of nature or the description of landscape as an aesthetic ideal: rather the mutual relation between nature and man, the beauty of life and the threatening ecological destruction of these values are subjects he has taken up in his later work. Not least among them is the Flute Concerto which, composed during 2007–8 though revised three years later, was written for Michael Faust and first performed by him in Cologne with the West German Radio Symphony conducted by Semyon Bychkov on 23 January 2009. Among the most expansive of Vask’s orchestral works, it comprises three movements—with the traditional slow-fast-slow format enhanced by the formal and expressive symmetry between those on either side.

An ascending curve of sound opens the first movement, which continues with pensive phrases on woodwind as well as expectant sounds from percussion before the soloist enters with a gracefully undulating melodic line that wends its way to the top of the instrument’s compass before arriving at a ruminative passage for woodwind and strings with discreet entries from bells. The soloist’s rejoinder becomes more expressive as the music moves towards a plangent climax which is underpinned by timpani, but this is replaced by the elegiac strains of woodwind and bells as the soloist continues with its dialogue on the way to the regretful close. The second movement begins in greatest contrast with a strident outburst from full orchestra, the soloist then sounding an animated response which presently takes on a more capricious and even dance-like motion with percussion much in evidence. This is continued by woodwind and harpsichord, with which the soloist pursues a lilting dialogue until the full orchestra re-enters and the initial aggression returns. Gradually these two types of music are brought together as a powerful climax is reached, though this is summarily curtailed and the soloist embarks on a wide-ranging and technically demanding cadenza that touches upon several of the ideas previously heard. At length percussion signals the stark re-entry of the orchestra and the music proceeds to drive forward with renewed impetus to an explosive culmination. The third movement now takes up both the mood and content of the first, as the soloist unfolds a lamenting dialogue with strings and woodwind—their exchanges gradually becoming more expressive and the textures fuller as the music moves towards a climax with brass and percussion much in evidence. With its relative dissonance, further enhanced by pounding timpani, this builds to a fateful denouement which, once again, is replaced by an elegiac response from the soloist along with woodwind and strings that gradually returns the movement—hence the work—to its starting-point: the soloist in duet with solo woodwind as a final ascending curve brings matters full circle.

The Sonata for Solo Flute/Alto Flute (alto flute in the first and third movements) was written in 1992 for Petri Alanko and first performed by Imants Sneibis in Helsinki on 21 August that year. As with the concerto there are three movements, which again pursue a slow-fast-slow format, though the much smaller scale means that this music retains an abstract and even inscrutable quality throughout. The first movement starts with the soloist’s barely audible breathing into the instrument, from where the music becomes more varied in manner and timbral range though without losing its essential inwardness. At length this recedes beyond earshot, whereupon the second movement begins with vividly rhetorical writing that sets the much more demonstrative tone to come. The soloist duly unfolds a succession of daring arabesques and hectic passage-work, at times touching on the heights of its compass, before heading into more pensive realms. From here the third movement brings a return to the mood at the opening, while now touching on the lower extent of the compass as the music winds down to a sombre close.

Written in 1972 (then revised in 2010), ostensibly for teaching purposes, Aria e danza is among the composer’s earliest acknowledged works though by no means uncharacteristic in its juxtaposition of deftly defined melodic and rhythmic elements. The Aria starts with limpid piano chords which elicit an appropriately plaintive response from the flute, with the music’s expressive manner subtly intensifying all the while. The more animated middle section secures a more fervent response from both instruments, though the initial mood is re-established as it heads towards a soulful climax that sets the seal on the movement as a whole. The Danza opens in pointed contrast with quizzical writing for the flute over a syncopated accompaniment on piano, yet this itself yields to a graceful middle section with an insouciant melody for the flute before the initial activity returns much as before and the music proceeds onward to a suitably decisive conclusion.

Landscape with Birds was written for the flautist Imants Sneibis and first performed by him in Riga on 11 November 1980. The piece unfolds as a free fantasia on a number of motifs that are in a constant state of change and transformation. It opens with spectral sounds on the flute, whose range of timbral possibilities are exploited to the utmost, complemented by whirling rhythmic patterns and fanciful arabesques that similarly open-out the music’s expressive range. At length the flute touches on a more forceful expression that brings about the dramatic and even histrionic climax (which is itself more than a little redolent of the writing in what is arguably the defining piece within the repertoire for unaccompanied flute—Densité 21.5 by Varèse), but this is to prove short-lived as the music returns to its initial manner and the piece duly plays out in a varied return of some of those motifs previously heard, before another whirling ostinato sees it vanish altogether.

Richard Whitehouse

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