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Imants ZEMZARIS (b. 1951)
Four Preludes on a Theme by Alfrēds Kalniņš (1981) [16:07]
Voice for solo clarinet (1985) [6:17]
Pēteris PLAKIDIS (1947-2017)
Prelude and Pulsation (1975) [6:38]
Two Sketches for solo oboe (1977) [5:29]
Pēteris VASKS (b. 1946)
Music for Fleeting Birds (1977) [8:59]
In Memory of a Friend (1982) [10:48]
Carion Quintet
rec. 2016, Latvian Radio Studio 1
SKANI LMIC050 [55:03]

The Carion Quintet’s previous excursions have been into Danish and other Western European music. This is the first time they’ve ventured into Latvian repertoire, which is surprising considering that two of their members, Egīls Upatnieks and Egīls Šēfers, are of Latvian nationality. This release was timed to coincide with Latvia’s Centenary. The musicians have carefully selected some of the finest and best music for their particular configuration of instruments by three contemporary composers. Sadly, since the issue of this release, Pēteris Plakidis has died. The music spans a decade from 1975-1985, a time when the Woodwind Quintet of the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra was flourishing, and the three composers originally wrote these works for them.

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the death of Alfrēds Kalniņš, Imants Zemzaris composed Four Preludes based on the Kalniņš' chorale "Your Work, Lord Jesus". The theme is lyrically attractive, with a bucolic character. The Preludes are not variations in the strict sense, rather they illuminate and develop the theme by "imitations, pulsations, mood and subtext". Each is ingeniously constructed and, I must say, the composer has achieved great success in emphasizing the diverse colouristic range of the instruments. No. 4 is particularly attractive, emitting a tranquil luminous glow.

Two of the works spotlight a solo instrument. "Voice" for solo clarinet, also by Zemzaris, is a beautiful piece which seem to grow from nothing, almost like a seed germinating from a period of dormancy and gradually emerging in full flower. The melody conjures up images of shepherds and harvests. Egīls Šēfers surfs the landscape of glissandi, double notes and oral sonorics with consummate skill and instinctive musicality. "Two Sketches" for solo oboe by Pēteris Plakidis has an improvisatory quality with the music evolving on the wing. The second sketch sounds almost like bird song and is the more attractive of the two. Plakidis' quintet contribution is "Prelude and Pulsation". They're two short movements which explore the different timbres of the instruments involved, in the context of a dialogue.

For me, the Carions save the best until last. The two Vask works alone would be worth the price of the CD. "Music for Fleeting Birds" is my favorite. The composer has an affection for bird-themed compositions. This piece tangibly captures the calls of migratory birds departing the homeland and heralding the onset of Latvia's long, dark winter. The birds also symbolize unlimited freedom for the composer, particularly pertinent in the situation Vask found himself in at the time of the work's composition. The music is expertly crafted, with the graphic etching of birdsong stunningly portrayed. "In Memory of a Friend" bears a dedication to a close acquaintance of Vask, the bassoonist Jānis Barinskis, who tragically perished in a fire in 1980. Its dark, sombre opening sets the mood. The individual voices are mournful and the cries of pain hard-hitting. A solemn chorale sits centre-stage, after which the music intensifies as the flames make a terrifying appearance. At the end, against a backdrop of some vocal contributions from the players, all becomes quiet and still, as death ensues.

There's no denying that the Carion Quintet have a real love for the music and play with infectious enthusiasm and compelling musicianship. They've been well-recorded and balanced. I've nothing but praise for this attractive disc.

Stephen Greenbank

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