Album Review: Kremerata Baltica Fuels the Soul with De Profundis

Contrapuntist and I recently attended a performance by Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica as part of their tour supporting their newly released album, De Profundis (you can find our review here). Kremer included a personal statement in the program about the album, which is dedicated to “all those who refuse to be silenced”. Here’s an excerpt:

… We, the worshipers of Art, believe it is our duty to build bridges and to stand up in support of those who are trying to establish a more democratic society, those who are fighting for transparency and truth.… The artists featured on this record the firm a deep-rooted personal expression that can resonate within anyone… Each of the 12 pieces selected for this album sends its own individual message to the listener, one that my colleagues from Kremerata Baltica and I have tried to illuminate. Now, it is up to you, dear listener, to allow this message to fuel your soul.

De Profundis continues the Kremerata’s tradition of innovative programming by combining works by Jean Sibelius, Robert Schumann, and Franz Schubert with lesser-known pieces by Raminta Šerkšnyte, Michael Nyman, and Georgs Pelecis. Each composition travels through a multitude of musical styles and emotions. The orchestra performs with homogenous tone quality, exquisite clarity, and jaw-dropping ensemble playing.

The title track, Raminta Šerkšnyte’s De Profundis is a mesmerizing jigsaw puzzle of rhythms and atonal figures. The piece experiments with a motive which bounces back and forth between the two notes of a minor third. The opening alternates between mechanistic 16th notes and soaring dissonant chords. Later, the main motive expands into a legato feel and triplet rhythms. The piece closes with the same frenetic motion of the opening section.

Compared to the Šerkšnyte, Robert Schumann’s sinuously chromatic Fugue No. 6 from Six Fugues on the Name B.A.C.H., Op. 60 sounds like it’s from another tonal universe. The orchestra rubs the contrapuntal lines against each other with enough clarity to make Glenn Gould proud. The piece culminates with a unified orchestral tone resembling a giant pipe organ.

Michael Nyman’s neo-romantic Trysting Fields takes a 180° turn from the Schumann’s parochial counterpoint. The Kremerata plays with just enough tenderness to prevent this heart-on-its-sleeve work from becoming schmaltzy. The piece throbs with vibrato accents and half-step ascending patterns.

Lasset Uns Den Nicht Zerteilen by Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer falls below the high quality of the other works on this album. The lively romp for string quartet suffers from poor intonation, and it’s hard to believe that the sloppy performance made it on to the otherwise exquisite album.

Astor Piazzolla’s sensual Melodia en La menor (Canto de Octubre) showcases Kremer’s luscious tone and masterful sense of timing. The Kremerata’s accompaniment savors rich harmonies and languorous counterpoint.

Flowering Jasmine by Latvian composer Georgs Pelecis features Kremer and vibraphone virtuoso Andrei Pushkarev over a cantering string orchestra accompaniment. The interplay between the soloists evokes images of raindrop-kissed flowers during springtime.

The album ends with Fragment, by Alfred Schnittke. The work consists of angular intervallic leaps and dissonant chords which sound like somebody squashing an accordion. This work sends the clearest message to the listener of any other piece on the album – rage and frustration.

Track listing is as follows:

1. Scene with Cranes (Jean Sibelius)
2. Passacaglia (Arvo Pärt)
3. De Profundis (Raminta Šerkšnyte)
4. Fugue No. 6 from Six Fugues on the Name B.A.C.H., Op. 60
5. Trysting Fields (Michael Nyman)
6. Minuet No. 3 and Trios in D minor, D. 89 (Franz Schubert)
7. Lasset Uns Den Nicht Zerteilen (Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer)
8. Adagio from Lady Macbeth of the Mtesensk District (Dmitri Shostakovich)
9. Sogno di Stabat Mater (Lera Auerbach)
10. Melodia en La menor (Canto de Octubre) (Astor Piazzolla)
11. Flowering Jasmine (Georgs Pelecis)
12. Fragment (Alfred Schnittke)

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