Peteris Vasks Speaks Truth to Power on 'Vox Amoris'

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It’s no shock that composer Peteris Vasks, a trained violinist, has often used his primary instrument as a mouthpiece for his most personal works.

Focusing on a concerto configuration, yields a troika in Vasks’s newest recording for Wergo, "Vox Amoris." Here, the violin is the titular voice of love, but it is also a voice of hope and a voice of burden. Born in 1946, Vasks came of age in some of the Soviet Union’s most turbulent years (the son of a Baptist pastor, he was refused schooling in his native Latvia and therefore had to study in neighboring Lithuania). In fact, it wasn’t until the fall of the Iron Curtain that the composer gained worldwide steam, thanks in no small part to fellow violinist and conductor Gidon Kremer.

The voice, whether it’s spoken or strung, in Vask’s world speaks for the people, but it also speaks for the individual, mitigating the two factions and realizing the pressures of such a task but also remaining optimistic in the face of that challenge. This dichotomy suits the violin well, particularly with Vasks’s music that incorporates folk traditions into a more classical style. And for all the structure that his works contain, he was also influenced by the aleatoric, creation-by-chance methods of Lutoslawski.

While wearing so many hats could easily lead to being a jack of all trades and a master of none, all of the colors combine harmoniously in Vasks’s canon. Rather than proselytize, his works ponder, meditate and allow emotions to flow naturally, such as they do in the title track, written in 2008-09. The so-called voice of love ebbs into Tala Gaisma, or “Distant Light” (1996-7), the composer’s first work for violin and string orchestra. The harmonious blend of Vox Amoris gives way to stark contrasts, like light piercing through darkness.

The disc ends on the reassuring note of Vientulais engelis (“Lonely Angel”), written in 1999 and revised in 2006. Inspired by a vision the composer had of an angel flying over the world, viewing it “with grieving eyes, but an almost imperceptible, loving touch,” the work aches with catharsis and redemption, particularly in the hands of Alina Pogostkina, playing with the Riga Sinfonietta under Juha Kangas.

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