Vestard Shimkus

Peteris Vasks: The Seasons

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Much of the music of Latvian composer Peteris Vasks is related to themes suggested by nature, a reflection both of his affection for his native landscape and a fierce commitment to environmental activism. The two works recorded here, The Seasons and Music for a Summer Evening, for solo piano, are highly personal evocations of nature as well as expressions of his religious convictions about the sanctity of the created world. Vasks' writing for the piano is highly idiomatic, even though he is primarily a string player. In general, his style in these works, which are entirely modal or tonal, could be characterized as broadly impressionistic, with elements variously reminiscent of Mompou, Ravel, and Messiaen, although a strong folk element is frequently an undercurrent. Three of the movements of The Seasons are written without bar lines, giving them a sense of spontaneity and improvisation. In the first movement in particular, "White Scenery," the very simple musical cells repeated and subtly varied with great rhythmic flexibility sound like they are being freely improvised. The unhurried unfolding of the material is a beautifully apt atmospheric depiction of the stillness and austerity of a winter landscape. "Spring Music" and "Green Scenery" are more active, even virtuosic evocations of Latvia's brief warm seasons, and "Autumn Music" presages a return to the long winter. Vasks wrote the cycle for Vestard Shimkus, who was 25 when he gave its premiere and recorded it. He plays with a real affinity for Vasks' individual style and with virtuosic assurance, and convincingly conveys the intensity of the composer's feeling for his subject matter. The accessibility and immediate attractiveness of Vasks' music make this a disc that ought to appeal to anyone who loves lyrical 20th century piano music. Wergo's sound is clean, clear, and very present.

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