Peteris Vasks (1946), Latvia's most prominent composer, was the son of a Baptist minister, and while he always felt a strong affinity for sacred music, he didn't feel free to express it through vocal music since it would never have been allowed to be performed under the Communist regime. Since the early '90s, he has turned his attention more and more to religious texts, and this CD includes three of his most significant sacred choral works, including a setting of the Mass. Vasks' style of choral writing links him to the composers who have come to be described as "holy minimalists," a group that includes Pärt, Górecki, Kancheli, and Tavener, whose music, while stylistically diverse, tends to rely on tonal and modal harmonies, is frequently harmonically static or slow-moving and is often linked to plainchant and ancient liturgical traditions. Vasks' choral music is firmly rooted in Western polyphony and is for the most part traditional-sounding; there is little in it apart from certain unconventional harmonic progressions that would make it immediately identifiable as a product of the late twentieth century. Among the other holy minimalists, the sound of his music is most closely related to that of Górecki in its harmonic textures and the somber earnestness of its moods. The three works recorded here are polyphonically and harmonically sensual, in spite of their serious tone. An exception to the sober tone is the Mass' Sanctus, which, while not exactly lighthearted, is lively; the composer imagines it "sung by happy, little angels." The Latvian Radio Choir sings with warmth and passion and with excellent control in the composer's extended, sustained vocal lines. Sigvards Klava, conducting Sinfonietta Riga, leads them in deeply felt performances. The CD should be of interest both to fans of choral music and of new trends in minimalism tinged with Romanticism.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
|Missa, for choir & orchestra|