Maskats Accordion Concerto Ondine

Arturs Maskats (b. 1957)
Tango (2002)
What the Wind Told over the Sea, Accordion Concerto (2021)
Cantus Diatonicus (1982)
My River runs to thee… (2019)
Ksenija Sidorova (accordion)
Latvian National Symphony Orchestra/Andris Poga
rec 2022, Great Guild Hall, Riga, Latvia
Ondine ODE 1419-2 [53]

Arturs Maskats’s Tango was a finalist at the 2003 Masterprize competition, and has become one of his most performed pieces. He said that he “wanted to unite varied tango characteristics in a unified dramaturgy for symphony orchestra”, and added: “Ravel achieved this with the waltz at the beginning of the 20th century and I wanted to try to do this with the tango.” Ravel masterful apotheosis of the waltz is commonly perceived as a requiem for a vanished world; Maskats’s work leans towards well-known examples, and that includes allusions to Astor Piazzolla’s music. In any case, the piece is symphonic in outlook and construction. It is partly based on recurring ideas which knit the whole together. As Orests Silabriedis writes in the liner notes, the music is characteristic of “the dualism in Maskats’ music: there are many occurrences where the composer hovers on the border between endless sadness and passionate, but not particularly enjoyable games”. I think this perfectly sums up Maskats’s music in general. Be that as it may, Tango is an accomplished work which displays a fine ear for arresting orchestral textures and for long-term musical thinking.

The Accordion Concerto What the Wind Told over the Sea was composed for the soloist here, Ksenija Sidorova, who closely collaborated with the composer. He recalls that in the 1990s he lived by the sea in the winter and the summer. “Since that time, I cannot live without the sea. The games of the waves can be lyrical, dramatic, dance-like, but this dance can, at times, become quite boisterous. My Accordion Concerto is like that, and it is, without a doubt the Baltic Sea.” The four movements are played without a break. This quite serious and subtly poetic piece eschews the all-too-evident tricks that one might associate with the instrument. The music is often subdued, at times fragile, dreamy and animated in turn. It evokes various moods the composer hinted at in his comments. There also are many felicitous orchestral gestures. The concerto ends quite magically: the music fades away softly, and members of the orchestra accompany it by peaceful and appeasing humming. There may be few accordion concertos around, even if the instrument has now attracted and is still attracting more attention. This beautiful work should become part of that repertoire – it is far too good to be bluntly ignored.

Cantus Diatonicus, a much earlier short work, was composed as graduating thesis at the Latvian Academy of Music, and dedicated to the composer’s godmother who was then seriously ill (she happily recovered). This beautiful, sincere and deeply felt work has many fine orchestral traits, such as the orphans’ song The Sun Flowed played on the celesta near the end of the piece. There may be hints to what Maskats does in the last bars of the Accordion Concerto.

My River runs to thee… was commissioned by two orchestras conducted by Andris Nelsons, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. A substantial work, it is obliquely inspired by a poem by Emily Dickinson, whose first line gave the piece its title. This symphonic poem, as it is, does not aim to describe or paint anything. Rather, it reflects moods which the poem suggests. The main idea is the river, thus water with all its various meanings. The composer says: “in my belief, the river represents life, freedom, definitely also love. It is, in every way, something that we are given from above and that rules our life.” The music calmly unfolds and slowly builds up to a massive climax. There follows a grand pause, and then the music becomes again pensive and elegiac till it ends peacefully.

The two substantial pieces may be the most beautiful here, but there is much to enjoy in the other two. The performance and the quality of recording are up to Ondine’s best standards, and I do not think they might be readily bettered. Those who have already heard Maskats’s work will need no further recommendation. I am sure that others will find much to enjoy in this composer’s music. It is clearly from its time but accessible and strongly expressive. More than well worth hearing.

Hubert Culot

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