Notes and Editorial Reviews
NORDIC ATMOSPHERES • Claus Efland, cond; Egils Šefers (cl); Sinfonietta Riga • CHALLENGE 72630 (68:20)
SIBELIUS Romance in C. VASKS Musica dolorosa. GRIEG 2 Elegiac Melodies. NIELSEN Suite for String Orchestra. KALSONS Clarinet Concerto. LARSSON Pastoral Suite: Romance
This is the second CD from the Sinfonietta Riga and its Latvian conductor Claus Efland, a follow-up to their outstanding Concertante CD (Fanfare 37:6). The title Nordic Atmospheres is appropriate, if not quite accurate. Music by six composers from five countries—one from each of the four Nordic lands plus the Baltic state of Latvia—make up the program. Completely accurate, though, is Thomas Otto’s introductory comment in his well-designed
interview with Efland (in lieu of program notes): “The smallest common denominator of all the composers represented here is their close bond with the musical and cultural traditions of their countries, which is reflected in their works like a gene code.”
By chance, the two most interesting works are from Latvia. The clarinet concerto by Romualds Kalsons (b. 1936) is the only one not scored for strings alone. Indeed, it includes harpsichord (prominently displayed in the central slow movement), discrete percussion, and at one point, briefly, voices. The 20-minute, three-movement concerto would be a welcome addition to any clarinetist’s repertory. Echoes of Prokofiev in a lyrical mode, Frank Martin in a somber mode, and Poulenc at his jauntiest and zippiest all make their appearances, as do isolated instances of flutter-tonguing and multiphonics. The music dances, it drives forward, it explores unusual timbres and it constantly engages the ear. The soloist, Egils Šefers, is the same clarinetist as on the Concertante CD, and he shines as brightly here as he did there.
The other Latvian work is P?\eteris Vasks’s Musica dolorosa of 1983. Gray, overcast, foggy, and hazy are words that come to mind, music such as Charon might have heard while rowing across the Styx. The 15-minute work might be experienced as a counterpart to Barber’s Adagio, gliding slowly in somber blocks of sound that rises to an anguished, terror-stricken climax as Charon and his passenger approach the end of the journey. Efland states that “I have never conducted a piece that is as intense as Musica dolorosa.”
The four Nordic pieces are all well chosen and provide a welcome alternative to more common repertory that usually constitutes programs of this and similar titles.
The Sinfonietta Riga, formed in 2006, plays with sterling clarity and textural transparency, evoking the fresh, clean air of northern lands. The engineering is likewise immaculate. A winner, this one.
FANFARE: Robert Markow
Works on This Recording
Musica dolorosa by Peteris Vasks
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1982; Latvia
Concerto for Clarinet by Romualds Kalsons
Egils Sefers (Clarinet)
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