TĀLIVALDIS ĶENIŅŠ (1919-2008): Symphony No. 2 for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet and Orchestra “Sinfonia concertante”, Symphony No. 3, Symphony No. 7 “Symphony in the Form of a Passacaglia”.

Catalogue Number: 09Y002

Label: Ondine

Reference: ODE 1401-2

Format: CD

Price: $16.98

Description: This outstanding series concludes with two of the major Latvian symphonist's early works, and his penultimate essay in the form. The composer’s idiom is tonal, and tends strongly toward neo-romantic drama and emotional intensity with an emphasis on the dark, tragic, and stormy, undoubtedly reflecting Latvia's troubled history as observed by an exile in France and latterly, Canada. Ķeniņš' vehemence of expression places him firmly in the company of composers such as Hans Eklund (09W009), Torbjörn Iwan Lundquist (09W008, 03V001, 10U009 et al.), or Pettersson. Ķeniņš had a distinctive and individual voice, though, with intricate polyphony a recurring characteristic and an original style of orchestration with percussion an integral part of his palette (to the point where he wryly described one of his symphonies as "a concerto for percussion). A decade after the taut First Symphony (10W001) came the Second, one of the composer’s many concertante works. This hugely enjoyable piece, largely avoiding the tragic intensity that characterises much of Ķeniņš' output, is the epitome of warmly emotionally accessible romanticism. The first movement is sprightly and playful, Ķeniņš' contrapuntal skill to the fore in the exchanges between the soloists and orchestra. The slow movement, almost twice as long as the other two movements combined, is an achingly beautiful set of variations on a lullaby of the Mi’kmaq First Nations people, which evokes the andante of Busoni’s Indianisches Tagebuch, a Spiritual, and Grainger's richly chromatic folksong transcriptions. The finale is boisterously active and rudely energetic, though without the furious bellicosity of many of Ķeniņš' fast movements - think of the last movements of Shostakovich 6 and 9. With the Third Symphony of 1970, Ķeniņš takes up his more customary themes, with a tense, minatory opening movement, and an "inquieto" slow movement that more than lives up to that description. Ķeniņš' approach to symphonic form was unusual and highly personal; he regarded form as being of paramount importance, but his preferred forms were those of the Baroque, especially those that played to his immense skill as contrapuntist - fugue, canon - as well as variations. Sonata form and scherzo-and-trio movements are notably absent from his symphonies. Like No.2, the third brackets an extended slow movement between much shorter outer ones, though in No.3 the finale begins with a choleric outburst and maintains an uneasy tension throughout, even in its calm central section. Also in unusual form is Ķeniņš' 7th Symphony, a deeply personal work imbued with protest and profound sadness at the tragedy of the "lost Latvia" during the years of Soviet occupation. The symphony is designated "In the form of a passacaglia" and begins with a heavy, pitch-dark Intrada that introduces the passacaglia theme. This rises to a powerful climax and introduces the passacaglia slow movement, the tragic heart of the work. This sunless lament's surging waves of despair and grief accelerate into a brief, angry climax and then subside into numbed, shell-shocked immobility. A final, imposing chorale-like variation ushers in a short, belligerent, violent "scherzo", based on the main theme. This fades away in lamenting woodwind solos and eerie percussion rattlings, ushering in the extended finale, which sets a poem by the composer’s father Atis Ķeniņš (1874–1961), which describes a journey through a Slough of Despond and a Valley of the Shadow of Death toward "A vast and perfect peace" in Romantic, nature-laden imagery. This ascending trajectory is framed in music (intriguingly incorporating what sounds like a deliberate quotation from Bruckner’s 7th Symphony as the "journey" begins) of powerful dramatic content and narrative force, almost programmatically describing the travails and spiritual conflicts of a protagonist, before arriving at a beautiful oasis of calm acceptance and an epilogue, described by the composer as "like an Agnus Dei, [while] the developed passacaglia symbolises the course of our inevitable fate", with an ambiguous, uncertain conclusion. Tommaso Pratola (flute), Egils Upatnieks (oboe), Mārtiņš Circenis (clarinet). Latvian National Symphony Orchestra; Andris Poga.

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