The music of Peteris Vasks of Latvia is not hard to understand. It is an emotional music that uses mainly minor keys and slow tempos to express sadness, grief, mourning, reverence, prayerfulness, and also a spiritual hopefulness that emerges on the other side of the darkness. Vasks works in the tradition of explicit or implicit sacred music that includes Part, Gorecki, Gubaidulina, and Kancheli. He also continues to be powerfully shaped by Barber's "Adagio for Strings," as evidenced by the recent composition "Viatore" (see my review of his String Quartet No. 4 by the Kronos Quartet).
The composer was present at the recording of the three works on this BIS disc, one, "Viatore" (2001 - 14'47), a premiere. Katarina Andreasson is the violinist on the violin concerto "Distant Light" (1996/7 - 30'58) its third recording, and she also leads the Swedish Chamber Orchestra. The third piece is "Musica Dolorosa" (1983 - 12'27), a requiem for the composer's sister.
The first recording of "Distant Light" was by Gidon Kremer. The second, on the Finnish Ondine label, was performed by John Storgards, and was significantly slower and longer. Andreasson and her ensemble sound magnificent at a pace closer to Kremer's original. This is a superb realization of Vasks's music, and the excellent new version of "Distant Light" as well as the fine new composition "Viatore" (Latin for traveller) are particularly strong reasons to hear this BIS production.