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JAZEPS VITOLS (1863-1948)
Dramatic Overture (1895)
Latvian Folk Song Fantasy (1908) *
Spriditis Overture (1907)
Jewels - suite (1924)
Autumn Song (1928)
* Valdis Zarins (violin) Latvian National SO/Dmitri Yablonsky
rec 22-26 Aug 1994 Riga MARCO POLO 8.223756 [66.32]

Vitols (or Wihtols) is likely to be better known (or less unknown!) as one of the teachers of Miaskovsky and Prokofiev rather than for his own music. His is a Latvian voice but we would do well to remember him in the same company as Borodin and Glazunov. He was a pupil of Rimsky at St Petersburg but became the centre of the musical universe in Riga from 1918. The turbulent days of 1944 saw him leave for Germany where he died in Lübeck.

The Dramatic Overture is a slice of Slavonic gloom (think Tchaikovsky 5) mingled with the expectant mists of dawn. Add a helping of Glazunov's Symphonies 4 and 8 and some coaxing horn climaxes this amounts to some very attractive stuff.

Zarins way with three-movement Fantasy is quite brilliant. The work and the performance are alive with fairy-tale poetry and tuneful grace. In practice this operates as a light-on-the-palate violin concerto rather like the Glazunov or Prokofiev 1: a little charmer with passion and display never far off. Another brother from a later generation is the violin concerto of fellow, Latvian Ivanovs. Zarins has recorded this work on Campion. Do hear this piece.

Spriditis is Tchaikovskian in the manner of the lilting wistful drama of the ballets - especially Nutcracker crossed with The Seasons and Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream. Pointful woodwind writing stalks the pages creating a soundworld close to Glazunov with resolute emotion - a far from stern approach.

Jewels is a delightful light music suite: 1. Amethysts (a bird spreading and beating its wings in the sun - a touch of the grand Spartacus theme); 2. Emeralds (glinting bright); 3. Pearls; 4. Rubies; 5. Diamonds (a waltz - longest movement and the weakest.). Movements 3 and 4 are less than one minute in duration.

Autumn Song (dedicated to Janis Medins another Latvian composer) is effusive in a Straussian way with a touch or two of Scriabin. It comes across as a hybrid of Don Juan and Balakirev's Tamara.

The orchestra are excellent at every turn though the string tone would have benefited from greater muscle. The recording has excellent impact and detailing.

Whether we will ever hear Vitols' Symphony (1886-88) or the tone poem Feast of Ligo remains to be seen. I am interested and I recommend this disc to anyone looking for rewarding music of a slavonic caste.

Recommended with confidence.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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