As a child, Peteris Vasks began to study violin. He recalls as his happiest the times he was able to play in a string quartet. Later Vasks performed as a double-bass player with various Latvian and Lithuanian symphony and chamber orchestras. He says it was clear soon enough that the sound of string instruments was for him the most perfect: “Apart from everything else, I was fascinated by cantilena – the feeling of an immense and never-ending chant. It is in the sound of string instruments that my message sounds best – I am able there to sing out in the best way.”
Vasks’s pantheistic love of nature is mirrored in his String Quartet No. 2 – “Summer Tunes”: “I experience God and pray to him in the forest, on the seashore, everywhere, because the world as God created it is so beautiful.” The first movement, “Coming into Bloom”, is introduced in a subdued and flowing manner until the music settles. The second movement, “Birds” – with its free imitations of birdsongs – ranks among the most elaborate of Vasks’s compositions. The third movement, “Elegy”, ushers in autumnal resignation.
The String Quartet No. 5 consists of two contrasting movements with poetic titles: “being present” and “so distant ... yet so near”. This opus explicitly reveals the dualism of images and moods so intrinsic to Vasks’s music, to which the composer’s written introduction bears witness: “The first movement immediately ushers in an atmosphere of emotional high tension. The dominant musical atmospheric elements are dramatic and turbulent. [...] The second movement is the quartet’s quiet, unhurried, songlike section – a forgiving, love-filled gaze upon a world tormented by pain and contradictions. Gradually, the singing becomes more personal, emotional, and dramatic. [...] The quartet dies away in a mood of radiant sorrow. One cycle has ended. We continue to live.”
The interpretation of the String Quartet No 5 is the first European performance and the first recording worldwide.