Peteris Plakidis is an almost exact contemporary of Peteris Vasks and both composers share a strong affinity with the meditative power of nature and the distinct character of Latvian folk music. Plakidis writes exciting music, and I find that (not that this is exclusive to Plakidis!) I listen with an ear that is perpetually curious about what is around the corner, minute by minute. What a sublime feeling for a listener! Indeed, there is a 'certain something' about Baltic composers that I have always found intriguing (and extremely enjoyable), not unlike the best music that Finland has gifted upon the world. There is an expansiveness of sound, brisk yet also warm and undoubtedly inspired by the geography, as well as what seems to me to be an innate spiritualism found in the works of many Baltic composers (yes Arvo Pärt is the obvious example).
The earliest work on this recordings is the "Music for Piano, Strings, and Timpani" , written in 1969 as Plakidis completed his musical studies at the Latvian Conservatory. A work of strength and urgency, it betrays the heavy influence of Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta . A long, free solo passage for piano at the start evolves into a Bartókian allegro, and thence through several variations on a simple thematic motif. Despite the clear influence of the Hungarian master-not a bad model for a young composer at the time-there are many individual touches. One of these is a dual cadenza for timpani and piano, a "duel" cadenza in fact, and a harmonically ambivalent ending where the piano's accented chords fight the key established by hymn-like string textures. (This polytonal clash may have had its origin in the closing bars of Berg's Chamber Concerto) There would also seem to be a political undercurrent to the piece: the thematic motif comes from a nationalistic Latvian song. The booklet notes take it to be an anti-Soviet statement, although knowing this fact is by no means vital to an appreciation of the work.
With the two shorter concertante pieces from the 1980s, we are in more recognizably Baltic territory. Texture becomes the primary element in the lovely lovely "Concerto for Two Oboes and Strings" where the two solo instruments unfold freely imitative musical lines over a wash of high strings. The sound suggests birds winging in close formation over some vast, cold landscape. The Concerto-Ballad combines this free imitation with more propulsive writing, led by an important piano part, taking us into different emotional territory again. A plaintive, folk-like theme in thirds is a notable strand of the busy middle section of this tautly structured piece.
Finally, from 1991, comes a brief cycle of three songs for mezzo-soprano and chamber orchestra, "Songs of the Wind and Blood". Settings of dream-like poems by Astrida Ivaska, the songs evoke a warm response from the composer. Melodic vocal lines and atmospheric string textures blend with the innate warmth of the mezzo voice to produce a heartfelt mini-cycle on the subject of the "dark waters of memory".
I have included (the always informative) Toccata booklet notes.
Enjoy what imo is a major discovery!