TĀLIVALDIS ĶENIŅŠ (1919-2008): Symphony No. 1, Concerto for Piano, Strings and Percussion, Concerto di camera No. 1 for Piano, Flute, Clarinet and Strings.

Catalogue Number: 10W001

Label: Ondine

Reference: ODE 1350-2

Format: CD

Price: $16.98

Description: A warm welcome to the catalogue to the orchestral music of this distinguished, quintessentially Latvian composer, who lived most of his professional life in Canada but whose formative education took place in France. Essentially a neo-romantic with an original, modally inflected tonal language, he wrote prolifically in many forms, including eight symphonies and eleven concertante works, which, if these splendid examples are anything to go by, are well worth discovery. The First Symphony, written in 1959, is a fully mature eloquent symphonic argument in three taut movements, the first a brief introduction in the form of variations on an unsettled theme that seems to search far and wide for its true identity, passing through tensely expectant, stormy, and reflective episodes in fluid tonality and mercurial changes of mood. The composer’s highly characteristic orchestration is evident throughout, with expressive emphasis placed on solo lines, and this is even more evident in the deeply moving slow movement, its melancholy, folk-inflected theme first stated by a plaintive bassoon, and then developed in sombre, stately counterpoint between instrumental groupings. The robust, active finale is fugal, the first subject initially given by a jocular trombone. After the lively exposition, a slower episode, full of inventive counterpoint ensues, and then the faster material is cheekily reintroduced; a pause for reflection and a lovely melodic interlude, then the music scampers to a brisk conclusion. As fine as the symphony is, the piano concerto carries even greater emotional impact. Written in 1990, as Latvia was in the midst of its tempestuous struggles to gain independence from the USSR, the composer poured into the concerto his "feelings of bitterness, anguish, and shock brought on by the tragic recent events in my homeland". The first movement explodes into frenetic activity in rapid, tense, motoric sequences of gestures. Ķeniņš' unique timbral interactions between percussion and orchestra are both highly original and extraordinarily effective in conveying a sense of simmering rage and action on the edge of losing control. This carries over into a contrasting slow section, a lament initiated by the piano, before the toccata-like material flies up again. The tragic, oppressively dark slow movement is imbued with a sense of foreboding and unremitting tension. Mysterious pealing bells sound out of the gloom, and a lonely violin sings a desolate song in this blighted landscape inhabited by fleeting shadows and the unearthly rustling of ghosts. The last movement complements the first as another frantic toccata, infested with skeletal, skittering percussion; the piano part darts desperately to and fro to escape the pursuing nightmare as it careers toward a hammering conclusion. By contrast, in the Concerto di camera No. 1 (1981) the argument is purely musical, and the piece is less virtuosic and emotionally demonstrative, neoclassically economical, though there is a constant sense of dramatic tension. In the composer’s words: "... the thematic material is in never-ending development and takes shape in the dialogue between the solo instrument and other members of the chamber group." The piece displays a somewhat Bartókian approach to its rather astringent tonal harmony and incisive piano writing, and a curious feature is that throughout, its melodies tend to be constructed of short motifs which frequently suggest the contours of D-S-C-H and B-A-C-H, frequently enough that it has to be deliberate, though its meaning, if any, seems to be undocumented. The first movement is developed fugally, with the composer’s mastery of detailed, intricate counterpoint amply on display. The second is mysterious and introspective, while the finale is a rhythmically accented, incisive toccata. Agnese Egliņa (piano), Tommaso Pratola (flute), Mārtiņš Circenis (clarinet), Edgars Saksons (percussion), Latvian National Symphony Orchestra; Guntis Kuzma, Andris Poga (Symphony).


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