John Storgårds

Peteris Vasks: Symphony No. 3; Cello Concerto

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This SACD offers two of Latvian composer Peteris Vasks' most important large-scale works, his Third Symphony (2004-2005) and his Cello Concerto (1993-1994). One aspect of Vasks' largely tonal music that takes some getting used to, particularly in the symphony, is the fact that there are rarely more than two things going on at the same time, and generally, one of these events is a fairly static harmonic background. The result is music whose most striking attributes are its simplicity, atmospheric coloring, and melody. This near-absence of counterpoint also gives the music a monumentality that could be perceived as stolid and blocky, if it were not for the composer's colorful orchestration and skill at creating momentum with very simple elements.

The single-movement symphony is written in four sections played without breaks. Its lack of traditional motivic development is offset by the composer's creation of distinctive melodies and textures that reassuringly reoccur. Perhaps its most surprising moment is its juxtaposition of a quotation from Arvo Pärt's Fratres with persistent repetitions of the opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Toward the end of the last section, the composer unleashes an uncharacteristic welter of ideas that subside into the quietness of a single line played by an alto flute.

The Cello Concerto, which the composer describes as having been inspired by the suffering and perseverance of the Lithuanian people, is in five movements, with moments of serenity alternating with agitation. Here, the additional line of the cello increases the music's textural complexity, making it more conventional and accessible than the symphony. Cellist Marko Ylönen plays with a resonant tone and conveys both the turbulence and lyrical tranquility of the concerto. John Storgårds leads the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra in committed and crisp performances of both works. The sound quality is remarkably clear and present.

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