Gregorian chants feature on CD by Riga ancient music ensemble

Schola Cantorum Riga: Domus Mea

Skani, LMIC/SKANI 046, 2016

One of the earliest manuscripts that references music in Riga is the Missale Rigensis (or Riga Missal), a 15th century document that describes church and liturgical life at the Riga Cathedral. The Missal provides an overview of the celebration of Mass throughout the calendar year, and, among instructions and texts, there is also music – the Gregorian chants that were performed during Mass. This can be considered the first evidence of written musical history in Latvia.

Recognizing the importance and uniqueness of this document and the music contained within it, the Gregorian and ancient music ensemble Schola Cantorum Riga, led by Guntars Prānis, have recorded an album of some of the music in the Missal, entitled Domus Mea. As these songs were originally performed in the Riga Cathedral in the 15th century, it is appropriate that this CD was recorded at the same Riga Cathedral, but almost 600 years later. The album was released by the Latvian national record label Skani, which has released many excellent CDs and has raised awareness of talented Latvian artists and composers worldwide.

Schola Cantorum was founded in 1995, and the ensemble mainly focuses on medieval era repertoire, but also performs modern works. The group members on this recording were Jānis Moors, Aigars Reinis, Jānis Kurševs, Dainis Geidmanis, Ansis Klucis, Kaspars Milaševičs, Mārtiņš Moors and Jānis Rožkalns.

The CD contains two cycles of works, the first being the 13 part Missa in Dedicatione Ecclesiae and the second the five part Varia in Assumptione Beatae Mariae Virginis & In Dedicatione Ecclesiae. Missa in Dedicatione Ecclesiae is a mass for the celebration of the dedication of a new church, and it combines both elements from the Riga Missal as well as other chants of that era.

Though Gregorian singing is, by its very nature, relatively simple and plain (that is, these spiritual works are not meant to be flashy), there is an art to making this kind of music. Its simple nature still contains many different emotions and thoughts – worship, faith, praise, even fear. Schola Cantorum Riga bring out the many facets of these chants that are more than half a millennia old – making them as vital and as vivid as they were 600 years ago.

The Riga Cathedral Girls’ Choir Tiara, conducted by Aira Birziņa, joins the ensemble on two of the recordings, and the Gregorian singing is balanced by the girls’ choir, revealing additional layers in the sacred texts and making for a particularly unique performance.

Prānis also adds an extra dimension to some of the performances by adding the hurdy-gurdy – a medieval era crank-turned string instrument that was originally intended as a tool to teach monks to sing. Its single voiced sound adds a haunting and somber element to the music in the chants such as ‘Agnus Dei cum tropo’ and ‘Fundata est’.

The CD booklet contains extensive notes on the works and Gregorian singing by Prānis (who is also a PhD in Gregorian singing), as well as notes on the performers, in Latvian and English. The booklet also has all the texts to the chants, with the original Latin texts translated into Latvian and English. Still, the English translation has inconsistent translations for ‘Rīgas doms’, the correct ‘Riga Cathedral’ appears, but also the incorrect ‘Dome Cathedral’ (which is incorrect, if only because the cathedral doesn’t actually have a dome).

Schola Cantorum Riga reconfirm that they are one of the premiere early music ensembles with the release of Domus Mea, a release that is not just of high quality, but of historic value, as it contains some of the earliest music written in Latvia. It is an authentic and faithful recreation of the music of that era, and the recording in the Riga Cathedral gives the music an added spirituality and sacredness, confirming that this music, comparatively simple chanting, is eternal and always relevant. Director Guntars Prānis has establishes himself as an extremely talented and knowledgeable Gregorian music interpreter, and, together with the exceptional singers in Schola Cantorum Riga, has made a memorable record of early sacred music in Latvia.

For further information, please visit the Schola Cantorum Riga website.

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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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