This fine disc is the Riga Philharmonic’s – and Conifer’s – second foray into the music of the Latvian Peteris Vasks (b. 1946). The first, containing five shortish items conducted by Kriss Rusmanis (1/95), was one of those rare beasts, a real breakthrough disc for a composer little known outside his country. This newcomer, with Jonas Aleksa now at the helm, presents two more substantial utterances which in my opinion make a stronger claim for Vasks as a leading contemporary figure than did its predecessor.
The Cello Concerto is cast in five movements, pairs of cantuses and toccatas framing a central Monologue. New Simplicity is the dominant style of the outermost spans, but with the toccatas Vasks moves into more varied terrain (he clearly knows his Shostakovich). The concerto is an exhilarating score and receives here a vibrant performance from David Geringas (soloist in the Goldschmidt Concerto – CPO, 7/95). Aleksa and the Riga players also give a splendid account of the Symphony for strings, Voices (1990-91), though they face stiff competition from the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra under Juha Kangas. In general, the Finnish ensemble achieve more precision in their playing and benefit from better sound, so that more of the effects Vasks asks for can be heard. Kangas also consistently adopts faster tempos, but Aleksa has as sure an interpretative grasp of the whole. In the end it comes down to couplings (pieces by Lithuanians on Finlandia): I for one would not want to be without the Cello Concerto.