19 February 2017

Sinfionetta Riga with Alexsandre Doisy

It finally happened, I managed to get myself from Vilnius to Riga! At long last I have traversed the borders between these two proud Baltic states and got to see another side to the Baltic. After a wonderfully peaceful bus journey from Vilnius to Riga, and a quick scavenge in a music shop for some Latvian CDs, I set foot into the Lielaja gilde to see Sinfionetta Riga under the fine baton of Normunds Sne.

The concert was part of a larger festival dedicated to the saxophone, so I was particularly curious to see how I would swallow a concert full of sax concerti. The openner came in the form of a charming work by Regis Campo. His Ouverture en forme d'etoiles (2006) was bright resilient, and above all else, it was playful. This cheeky little number should be played more often, even if it did offend the lady sat next to me in the concert. After a brief overture to wet our appetites, out came Katrina Kivleniece with a tenor saxophone. I was curious to hear the next work, as my knowledge of the Latvian landscape is rather thin, so I was intrigued to see what this concerto by Gederts Ramans would sound like. The three movement concerto, written in 1962 was charming. The three movements gave the soloist the space to truly be and Katrina Kivleniece definitely exploited that. Her tone, her command of the instrument were exquisite and I found the sensation of her vibrato to be just the sweetest addition. Overall the concerti was fun and I believe more saxophonists should have a crack at this piece. It charms and is witty, what more can someone want from a concerti?

Following a bit of shuffling, came the final piece of the half, Frank Martin's Ballade for saxophone and orchestra. The piece stands as quite a formidable work for the instrument and orchestra, and was a definitive change in mood after two very cheeky little pieces. Alexsandre Doisy was on extremely good form, highlighting and exploiting every nuance of the titanic piece. Normunds Sne was also a joy to watch, as he was able to truly magnify the larger architecture of the work giving direction to the sombre philosophising of the work. For me what truly stunned me, was hearing Doisy's control of the extreme altissimo registers. They were handled so sweetly and elegantly but the effect came off as extremely potent and engaging. It was a joy to witness, my only thought would have been to maybe squeeze it one piece early, to sandwich such potent melodrama with the cheekier pieces. The form we heard last night gave us a huge amount of sweet sugar and then suddenly we dropped into deeply brooding colours. It was quite startling. 

After the break, and me nerding out trying to spot as many Latvian composers as I could, came the second half. The first piece in the second half was Juste Janulyte's new work The Colour of Water for saxophone(s) and orchestra. The duty and honour of performing this premiere fell on the shoulders of Arvydas Kazlauskas. Those of you who have read this blog more than once will know how much I adore the music of Juste Janulyte. So to hear a work which concludes her trilogy of 'Latvian' pieces was definitely going to be a high point for me. The work is simple and elegant, with the use of saxophone doublings having quite a striking impact. The gathering of colours as they dance around the soloist who swayed in tandem with the music was truly mesmerising. Arvydas Kazlauskas's control and poetic intepretation was truly inspired. Very rarely do soloists exploit a premiere quite like this. He was given a beautifully crafted white canvas to respond to, and he filled it with elegance, colour, and majesty. The moment that really affected me was the point the baritone sax finally made its voice heard. The rich purring of the low sax made the finale of the piece glisten in the concert hall. For me, what is particularly curious, is to see how the three 'Latvian' pieces will sound together. To start with Elongations of Nights then follow it with this wonderful piece, and close with Observation of Clouds would produce quite an exquiste programme indeed. With all three, having been wonderfully crafted, combined with a beautifully flowing undercurrent, this could lead to a truly magnificent hour of listening.

After tons of shuffling, came the finale. Artic-REVERSE by Rihards Zalupe for sax quartet, orchestra, and electronics was quite a intriguing piece, mostly due to the massive forces and the fact I had never heard a work by this composer beforehand. The start was curious, the vaguely 'Michael Nyman-esque' sax writing would have normally grossed me out, but when combined with the rich colours of the orchestra and electronics gave the piece a curious brilliance to it. The gesture were bright and always clear, the Riga Saxophone Quartet were elegant, and weirdly every moment was intriguing to listen to. The issue for me was the fact the work ultimately lacked structural focus. Rihards would build a wonderful colourful space and then suddenly throw it away for something else. Weirdly I still don't quite know how I feel about the work as a whole. If the structure was more succinct, I would easily say this piece is wonderful for being so bright and quite frankly original; but the structure bugs me to no end. I will have to keep my eye on the composer to see what on earth comes next. 

This has definitely a joyous concert to watch, and I was so glad to finally see Normunds Sne conducting in person. A truly refined and poignant conductor indeed. This trip to Riga has been a lovely adventure, and I sincerely hope it doesn't take me too long to return. On a closing note, as I have gathered some wonderful bits from Riga, expect to see more discussions of Latvian composers over the coming weeks. Until next time!

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