Compelling collection of songs on Helēna’s new album

Singer songwriter Helēna Kozlova – or just simply Helēna – has released a new album, a full seventeen years after her last solo album (1999’s Stāsti). Recorded over the course of more than a dozen years, the album Tāluma tuvumā, her third solo album, was released in 2016.

Helēna, who sings, plays piano, guitar and flute, as well as being a lyricist, began performing with the indie gothic group Skumji Akmeņi in the mid-1990s, and later in the group Levīti in the early 2000s. Helēna also provided the track ‘Viens vienīgs vārds’ to the 2016 collection of songs Pretējības with lyrics by Latvian poet Aspazija.

Helēna’s piano performance begins the album, with the wistful instrumental ‘Valsis’. The melancholy and haunting waltz rather suddenly morphs into the second track ‘Trauksme’ – the instrumental continues, but in a much faster tempo, with an added dramatic tension.

Vocals and guitar then appear in the subsequent track ‘Ilgu vējš’. Helēna’s rich alto voice imbues this song of sadness and longing with a forlorn dreaminess, and the combination of just the guitar and wind effects adds to the sense of solitude presented in the song.

Helēna uses an almost childlike voice for the English language ‘Shine’, which corresponds with the perhaps intentionally childlike lyrics like ‘you make a desert in my mind’. Combined with a King Crimson-like guitar echo effect, the song is at once tender and delicate.

Though she writes most of the lyrics, for the track ‘Šūpuļdziesma’, Helēna uses the lyrics of Latvian poet Kārlis Skalbe. Skalbe’s mystical lyrics are given an equally mysterious musical accompaniment, and this lullaby, featuring guitarist Einārs Kvilis, makes for a particularly eerie listening experience.

Though much of the music on the album is tinged with melancholy and sadness, the song ‘Serafafa verandā’ is one of the cheerier and more energetic songs, but with its pastoral feel still blends in well with the other tracks on the album.

Helēna’s vocals may remind some listeners of Marta Kreituse of the band Zāle – perhaps then it is no surprise that Helēna recently shared a bill with Zāle, as both share a similar low key yet picturesque musical style.

The album closes with ‘Impro’ which, as its title suggests, is an improvisation. However, the track sounds more like various sound effects spliced together – it is mildly interesting, but, at nearly six minutes, begins to drag a bit. One wishes the artist had formed an actual song out of these clips, rather than try to create her own ‘Revolution 9’.

At times fragile and brittle, other times powerful and dramatic, Tāluma tuvumā is a long awaited return by Helēna Kozlova. Her hypnotic vocals and lyrics leave an impression on the listener, through this series of songs of quiet intensity. Though it took more than a decade to record and release, the album is a unique and notable achievement, and with her restrained and refined style, Helēna has created a compelling collection of songs.

Helena - taluma tuvuma 001

 

    Helēna

    Tālumā tuvumā
    NabaMusic/Melo Records, 2016

    Track listing:

    1. Valsis
    2. Trauksme
    3. Ilgu vējš
    4. Ieaijā
    5. Tās būs tās ilgas
    6. Austo kalnu miglā
    7. Shine
    8. Šūpuļdziesma
    9. Serafafa veranda
    10. Man patīk
    11. Impro

     

    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.

Wealth of Folklore Material from 1950s on New Saucējas CD

From July 8 to August 6, 1958, a team from the Latvian SSR Academy of Sciences traveled to the Ludza and Kārsava districts in the Latgale region in eastern Latvia to gather folklore materials and record the songs and singing styles of these areas. Led by Alma Ancelāne (who worked in the Folklore Department at the Language and Literature Institute), and joined by other employees and students, the team, which also included future composer Pauls Dambis, gathered information so as to preserve these songs, most of which were passed around in an oral tradition, and the team compiled an extensive record from their expedition.

Recognizing the wealth that was gathered in this one expedition, the traditional folk singing group Saucējas, based at the Latvian Academy of Culture, decided to record an album of just the songs collected during that month in 1958. Entitled Trīci, munu ustabeni!, the CD contains performances of 29 songs from the Ludza and Kārsava districts (which is actually just a small percentage of the total folklore material gathered). Saucējas, directed by Iveta Tāle, also includes singers Marianna Auliciema, Kristīne Jansone, Indra Mētra, Janta Meža, Signe Pujāte, Kristīne Rotbaha, and Vineta Romāne. Most of the songs on the album are sung unaccompanied, but some have musical accompaniment.

One of the many aspects that makes the gathered musical material significant is the presence of multi-voiced singing (rather than just everyone singing the same melody in unison). For example, the multi-layered harmonies of “Kiukoj, uoru dzagiuzeite”, originally performed by the Kārsava ethnographic ensemble, a song about a girl that begins to cry when she hears the cuckoo singing, as she misses her brothers.

Saucējas have endeavored to make sure the performances are as authentic as possible – to make it sound like these are indeed songs as they were heard in the Latvian countryside – in other words, perhaps not entirely perfect and polished, but full of vitality and life. In songs like “Iz pīguli, iz pīguli”, “Malni muni kumieleni”, and “Tolka lela, tolka moza”, the group intentionally go for a loud sound, like women singing in a field while working.

The songs on the album cover many themes, reminding listeners that Latvians have folk songs for just about any occasion. Besides themes of work and relationships, there are songs about war and seasonal festivities. The collection is bookended by two lullabies – “Sešas peles mīgu vylka” and “Atnes, peleit, mīdzeni”, giving the song collection an almost circular sense – that the day begins and ends with sleep, and perhaps to suggest the importance of singing to children, so that the songs and traditions continue to be passed down throughout the generations.

Recording folk songs, particularly those sung by large groups with multiple voices and harmonies, is always a challenging task, and one additional aspect that makes this a successful release is that the group enlisted veteran folk music producer Gatis Gaujenieks (who has produced records for groups like Iļģi and Laiksne), and there is a crisp clarity in the immersive vocal performances.

As with many other releases from the Lauska record label, the packaging is again exceptional. The CD comes with a book of almost one hundred pages, detailing the songs and the research expedition. It provides many fascinating details about the time – one might wonder how it was possible in the late 1950s, deep within the time of the Soviet occupation of Latvia, that a team could research Latvian folklore (particularly considering the Soviet policy of the Russification of Latvia). As it was during the ‘Khrushchev Thaw’, certain restrictions were relaxed, but lest anyone forget that they were in the Soviet Union, as part of the expedition, researchers also had to ask participants if they were, for example, members of the Communist Party. Information is provided in both English and Latvian, and there are also many pictures from that era.

One of the more unique Latvian cultural events of the 1950s has led to one of the most unique Latvian folk music albums.  Providing a fascinating picture of how Latvian culture was still alive, to a certain degree, while part of the Soviet Union, but, at the same time, presenting a broad view of Latvian folk singing and a variety of themes, Trīci, munu ustabeni! is a faithful and authentic re-creation of a visit to small villages in eastern Latvia. Saucējas present the full spectrum of singing on the album – from intimate individual performances to loud ensemble performances, and the group has created not just an important historical document, but also a joyous and resplendent folk music album.

For further information, please visit the Saucējas Facebook page.

Also, all of the original audio material from the 1958 folklore expedition can be found here.

saucejas-trici-munu-ustabeni-001

Trīci, munu ustabeni!

Trejdeviņi koklētāji
Saucējas, Lauska, CD053, 2016

Track listing:

  1. Sešas peles mīgu vylka
  2. Iz pīguli, iz pīguli
  3. Malni muni kumieleni
  4. Kiukoj, uoru dzagiuzeite
  5. Kiukoj dzagiuze i dzīd laksteigola
  6. Tolka lela, tolka moza
  7. Lineni, muni lineni
  8. Es beju māmeņai vīna pati meiteņa
  9. Zīdi, zīdi, rudzu vuorpa
  10. Oi, gaļdeni, oi, gaļdeni
  11. Dāmpoļka
  12. Pluovuoja laiveņa pa dziļom jiurom
  13. Zeile dzīd(i), zeile dzīd(i)
  14. Aijā, munu vīglu pruotu
  15. Prūjom juoīt, prūjom juoīt
  16. Muoseņ(i) mīluo, kū tu te dori?
  17. Sastdiņ labi cīmā īti
  18. Pa kam var pazeit avīšu kryumu?
  19. Kū tys muns kakleņš
  20. Trīci, munu ustabeni
  21. Nadūd, Dīvs, veitulam(i)
  22. Tev zeileite zini nese
  23. Eima, eima mes, muosenis
  24. Padzīdim(i) mes, muosenis
  25. Doncojit(i), gūļojit(i)
  26. Zīmys svātki sabraukuši
  27. Kreicpoļka
  28. Kas duorzā(i), kas duorzā(i)
  29. Atnes, peleit, mīdzeni

 

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.

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.

schola-cantorum-riga-domus-mea-001

 

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.