New album contains collection of Latvian composer Plakidis’ vocal chamber music

Latvian composer Pēteris Plakidis has always been a unique voice in Latvian classical music. Combining many elements in various music genres, he has created a distinct sound and style. His long compositional career has seen success in symphonic music, choir music, and, particularly, in vocal music.

Perhaps the secret to Plakidis’ success in the field of vocal chamber music is that the singer he worked with the most – mezzo soprano Maija Krīgena – is also his wife. This tandem composed and performed a very large body of vocal work, leaving their indelible mark on Latvian music.

Recognizing their contribution, American record label Albany Records gathered together a number of historical recordings of Plakidis’ music and Krīgena’s performances on the album Tu brīnies manu dziesmu (You Wonder at My Song), a collection of Plakidis’ vocal chamber music. These recordings, almost all from the archives of Latvian Radio, span decades – from 1969 to 1989, and are a memorable document of this creative partnership.

Plakidis often used the poetry of modern Latvian poets for his compositions, and this collection features the words of poets like Imants Ziedonis, Māris Čaklais, as well as Ojārs Vācietis, whose ‘Skumja dziesma’ (Sorrowful Song) begins this collection. The appropriately mournful piano part, often just one note played between Krīgena’s vocals, accentuates Vācietis’ text, particularly phrases like “Visas manas grūtās bēres vēl ir priekšā” (All my difficult burials still lie before me).

Mournful themes continue in ‘Pastorāle’ (poetry by Knuts Skujenieks), and in this song, Krīgena’s musical accompaniment is only an oboe. The brief, single note phrases weave in and out of Krīgena’s vocals, making for a haunting, atmospheric performance.

Though almost all of the pieces use lyrics by Latvian poets, there is one arrangement of a Latvian folk song included in this collection – “Kas dimd, kas rīb”. Plakidis is one of the very few Latvian composers whose compositions occasionally have humorous elements, and this arrangement features the more quirky stylings of the composer. While the vocals are a fairly straightforward performance of the song, Plakidis backs it up with a noisy and clattering piano, appropriate for this Mārtiņi festival song about Mārtiņš himself making a lot of noise when approaching in his wagon.

Plakidis combines vocals with a variety of instruments in many of the pieces here, such as the fiddle and vocals in ‘Balta puķe ezerā’ (lyrics by Skujenieks), and organ and vocals in “Sarkanā svece” (lyrics by Valdis Grēviņš).

Plakidis worked in the theatre for much of his career, and there is an element of theatricality in many of his songs, such as in ‘Raganas dziesma pirms sprieduma pasludināšanas’ (The Witch’s Song Before Sentencing), lyrics by Māris Čaklais. The titular witch, defiant until the end, cries ‘Lai uguns iziet caur manu sirdi’ (Let fire go through my heart), and is consumed by fire (the rising flames represented by the quick tinkling of the piano). This terrifying imagery is brought vividly to life by both Plakidis’ music and Krīgena’s singing.

Granted, this collection of decades old historical recordings may not be of interest to everyone. Still, compositions created during the era of Soviet occupation were often subjected to strict guidelines and committee oversight, however, talented composers like Plakidis could still flourish creatively, even within these severe conditions. Hopefully this release will raise interest and awareness of Plakidis’ music, and ideally lead to further releases of the vast treasure trove of recordings in the Latvian Radio archives and elsewhere. And not just of Plakidis’ music – many 20th century Latvian composers have been underrepresented in the CD age. Thanks also must be given to Albany Records for releasing this collection. Though they are a label mainly focused on American classical music, they have also released a few CDs by the New York Latvian Concert Choir.

The CD booklet contains extensive notes on the composer and Krīgena in both Latvian and English by Latvian musicologist Arnolds Klotiņš, as well as all the lyrics (with English translations) for the vocal works. Oddly, though, the booklet does not identify the instrumentalists, which is unfortunate.

Compared to other Latvian composers, very little of Pēteris Plakidis’ music has been released on CD, and that is why You Wonder at My Song is not only a collection of significant historical recordings, but also a testament to both the compositional ability and creativity of Plakidis as well as the vocal talent and distinctive, rich voice of Maija Krīgena.

For further information, please visit the Albany Records website at http://www.albanyrecords.com

Peteris Plakidis - Tu brīnies manu dziesmu 001

You Wonder at my Song, Vocal Chamber Music

Pēteris Plakidis
Albany Records, TROY 1548, 2015

Track listing:

  1. Skumja dziesma

Lyrical cycle

  1. Vēja vilks
  2. Ugunī
  3. Pastorāle

Trīs Ojāra Vācieša dzejoļi

  1. Upei pāri
  2. Sadzīs pēdas vēji tev
  3. Siltā lietū

Divas dziesmas ar Raiņa dzeju

  1. Daudz simtu jūdžu tālumā
  2. Ganiņš

Trejžuburis

  1. Sveces dziesma
  2. Vēja dziesma
  3. Svečtura dziesma
  4. Kas dimd, kas rīb
  5. Valsis

Trīs Māra Čakla dzejoļi

  1. Rudens rītā
  2. Auseklis
  3. Raganas dziesmiņa pirms sprieduma pasludināšanas
  4. Atvadvārdi
  5. Sarkanā svece

Mazs diptihs

  1. Steigā
  2. Pelēkā diena

Kamerkantāte “Ezers”

  1. Skan stabule pār ūdeņiem
  2. Balta puķe ezerā
  3. Ne vairs dzērves, ne vairs svīres

 

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.

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