“Peteris Vasks has been winning himself something of a cult following over the past decade.
On the evidence of this blistering premiere recording, his Second Symphony of 1998-9 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 traverses emotions 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: 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 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 gives a heartfelt performance of Vasks's Violin Concerto (DistantLight). Written in 1996-7 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 are here perhaps less convincingly fused into a satisfying whole. Nevertheless, this enterprising release deserves every success.”