The year 1906 was a very significant year for Latvian music, as that was the year of the birth of two important composers – Volfgangs Dārziņš and Jānis Ivanovs. Each would, in his own way, have a major impact on Latvian classical music. Though there are many parallels in their lives, there are also quite a few dramatic differences, and these two composers, though born in the same year, would each make their unique mark on Latvian music with their compositions.
Recognising the contribution of these two composers, particularly their symphonic works, the Latvian national record company Skani, along with the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Andris Poga, recorded one major work from each composer and released the album Born in 1906. Dārziņš. Ivanovs.
Besides both being born in 1906, Volfgangs Dārziņš (the son of composer Emīls Dārziņš) and Jānis Ivanovs both enrolled in the Latvian Conservatory in 1924, and both studied composition with renowned Latvian composer Jāzeps Vītols. At that point, the compositional styles (and fate) of both composers diverged rather dramatically. Dārziņš became known for the Latvian elements in his major works, and Ivanovs went on to focus on symphonic works, completing twenty symphonies in his lifetime. Additionally, Dārziņš went into exile after World War II, while Ivanovs remained in Latvia. To accentuate the differences even further, Dārziņš’ work on this CD – his Piano Concerto No. 2 – was composed relatively early in the composer’s career – in 1938, while the work by Ivanovs – his Symphony No. 20 – was composed very late in his career – in 1981.
Pianist Reinis Zariņš takes piano duties for the Dārziņš Piano Concerto, and he proves to be more than up to the challenge. The piano concerto opens with an almost jazzy, Ravel-like introduction from the woodwinds, then joined by the strings, and then Zariņš enters, with his lyrical performance of romantic piano music. Even in the first movement, there are rather dramatic changes in tempo and mood, and Zariņš deftly handles these contrasts with an artistic flair. Zariņš performs solo for much of the introduction of the second movement, while the LNSO provide both a backdrop and a balance for the pianist’s performance. The lively third and final movement provides Zariņš and the orchestra to display their skills, as the piano is almost constantly playing and driving the performance. Zariņš brings forth the vitality and energy of this work, and maintains this vivacity and drive until the concluding moments, that dramatically and joyously bring this sweeping performance to a close.
After Dārziņš Piano Concerto, Ivanovs’ 20th Symphony is an almost jarring contrast. Written very late in his career, Ivanovs was now contemplating mortality, and these themes form the basis of this somber work. The slow, deliberate descending melody in the first measures of the first movement, makes it clear that this will be a bleak and mournful composition, full of foreboding and dread. Besides thoughts of his own mortality, perhaps the composer was also representing the era – as the early 1980s in Soviet occupied Latvia were a time of particular stagnation and hopelessness. As evidenced from the tolling bells in the first movement, Ivanovs considered this work his requiem (something he disclosed to his wife as well). The bleakness and tension is briefly balanced by the slightly lighter but very brief third movement, as perhaps a somewhat sentimental view of youth (indicated by the title ‘Reminiscenca’). The darkness returns in the fourth movement, there is little respite, until the work concludes again with the bells, quietly fading out.
The CD booklet has extensive notes on the composers, the compositions, the LNSO and Reinis Zariņš by noted Latvian musicologist Orests Silabriedis (along with English translations). Particularly fascinating are historical notes on the compositions for a bit of context, such as notes about a scarlet fever breakout in Jelgava during the time that Dārziņš was premiering the Piano Concerto, or about how, during the time of the composition of Ivanovs’ symphony, Latvian dissident Gunārs Astra, after retelling the plot of George Orwell’s 1984, was imprisoned for possession and distribution of anti-Soviet literature.
Born in 1906. Dārziņš. Ivanovs., with its two radically different compositions, shows the divergent paths and styles of these two great Latvian composers – Volfgangs Dārziņš and Jānis Ivanovs. Though born in the same year, and shared many similarities early on, each put their own individual stamp on Latvian music. The Latvian National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Andris Poga display their versatility by performing these two contrasting works, the lively Piano Concerto No. 2 with the stellar talents of pianist Reinis Zariņš, and the somber Symphony No. 20. This is yet another great release from Skani, as the label brings to light these significant works that perhaps might not be as familiar to the general listening public. Born in 1906 is a valuable and excellent addition to the collection of recorded Latvian symphonic music.
For further information, please visit the Skani website.