Klaus Mäkelä conducts three works written in the Soviet Union by composers with very different relationships to the regime: Peteris Vasks from Latvia, Reinhold Gliere from Ukraine, and Dmitri Shostakovich from Russia.
Peteris Vasks (b. 1946) grew up in the small town of Aizpute, in Latvia, which was at the time part of the Soviet Union, where his father was a pastor in a Baptist congregation. He was inspired by some of the most radical composers of his time, such as Witold Lutoslawski and Krzysztof Penderecki from Poland, and he provoked the regime with his own religious and artistic convictions. During the 1990s, Vasks’ music grew well-known outside his native country. Musica Dolorosa from 1984 is a lament in memory of the composer’s recently deceased sister.
Reinhold Gliere (1875–1956) was born in Kiev and was said to have Belgian, Polish and German roots. In contrast to many of his Russian contemporaries, Gliere turned his back on the West. After 1917, he never left the Soviet Union, but was a frequent traveller to regions such as Siberia and Uzbekistan. His music has a timeless, conservative character, and was very popular in his native country. French harpist Emmanuel Ceysson is the soloist in Gliere’s bubbling, light-hearted harp concert from 1938.
Dmitri Shostakovich’s (1906–1975) trajectory as a Soviet composer was destined to be significantly more complicated. While official state honours were bestowed on Gliere during the 1930s, Shostakovich fell into disfavour of Josef Stalin, the mighty ruler of the Soviet Union. In the course of the next decades, official reactions to his music varied strongly, and it was only following Stalin’s death in 1953 that his work was officially acknowledged. He remained terrified of reprisals for the rest of his life.
The background to his Symphony No. 10 is strongly contested – did he compose the symphony before or after Stalin’s death in the spring of 1953? And to what extent is it about Stalin and his era? The violent second movement has been claimed to be a depiction of Stalin himself – references to brutality and suppression are in clear evidence in the intense music. There was no doubting the artistic quality of the work, and the symphony was a great success, both in Russia and in the West. And if parts of the symphony seem oppressively dark, it also contains flickers of hope.
(Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa)
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