State Choir Latvija album features Ešenvalds’ works

Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds continues to gain international renown and fame, particularly with his choir music, which is now regularly performed by choirs worldwide. Audiences globally have been moved by his works, with their memorable melodies, their spiritual depth, and emotional resonance.

Ešenvalds’ works have often been inspired by legends, as well as folk traditions, and, recognizing that, the State Choir Latvija, conducted by Māris Sirmais, decided to record an album’s worth of Ešenvalds’ choir works on these themes. Entitled No neatminamiem laikiem (or From the Dim and Distant Past), the CD was released in 2017. Subtitled ‘Tautasdziesmas un teikas’ (or ‘Folk Songs and Fables’), the collection gathers choir songs inspired by folklore and stories.

Though his main influence is Latvian folk songs and fables, Ešenvalds has found inspiration worldwide through his travels. Perhaps it was during his time as composer in residence at the University of Cambridge’s Trinity College that Ešenvalds further developed his interest in the folklore and songs of the British Isles, as this collection features arrangements of both the Scottish ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose’ (words by Scottish poet Robert Burns) and the Irish ‘O Danny Boy’ (although the lyrics were originally by an English poet, it is one of the most famous of Irish songs). Both songs feature the duet of baritone Daumants Kalniņš and soprano Laura Štoma. Ešenvalds takes a traditional approach to these arrangements, leaving the soloists to sing the melody while the choir harmonizes, thereby leaving these memorable melodies in the foreground. The soloists deliver an enrapturing performance of these songs, particularly the heartbreaking ‘O Danny Boy’, with Kalniņš’ resonant, affecting vocals flowing together with Štoma’s soaring, angelic singing to create a deeply emotional rendering of the song.

Legends and stories of the Northern Lights have always been a major influence and inspiration for Ešenvalds’ works, and the album has a number of works on these themes. One example is the song simply entitled ‘Northern Lights’, which begins with a haunting Latvian folk song sung by Ansis Bētiņš. The folk song is about the coming of war foretold by the Northern Lights, and, as the CD booklet notes, in Latvian folklore the Northern Lights are considered to be spirits of soldiers. The song also uses texts by poets Charles Francis Hall and Fridtjof Nansen, also about the Northern Lights, and Ešenvalds meshes all of these evocative images and the wonder and amazement in the words into a memorable musical portrayal of these mystic images.

Ešenvalds has, of course, found much inspiration in Latvian folklore as well. Two such examples on this collection are ‘Ainava ar ganiem’ and ‘Aizej, lietiņ’. ‘Ainava’ combines elements of Latvian folk songs and folklore, presenting a engrossing musical picture of the Latvian landscape and herders working throughout the day. The song also incorporates elements of traditional Latvian singing, which, when combined with the choir’s harmonies, presents a pastoral panorama. ‘Aizej, lietiņ’’ is inspired by the more mystic aspects of Latvian folklore, and the song is one of conjuring and prayer by a herdsman for the rain to depart. The ensemble Altera veritas, with their unique combination of instruments (kokle, flute and accordion), provides an appropriately atmospheric foundation for this compelling performance, which also features soloist and folk singer Asnate Rancāne (of the ensemble Tautumeitas and other folk projects). The atmospheric middle section, with its soloists joining in sequence to create a rich, musical tapestry, then leads to a thundering, transformative conclusion, musically conjuring the celebration of the appearance of the sun.

The State Choir Latvija and conductor Māris Sirmais have long been collaborators and proponents of Ešenvalds’ music (the composer was a singer in the choir for many years). This is their second CD of Ešenvalds’ choir compositions (the first was 2013’s At the Foot of the Sky), and, as on that CD, the choir and Sirmais prove to be peerless interpreters of the composer’s works and again show that they are one of the most talented and versatile choirs performing today.

Folklore and folk songs have long been a source for inspiration for composer Ēriks Ešenvalds, and the fruits of this labor are on full display on No neatminamiem laikiem. The State Choir Latvija and artistic director Māris Sirmais take the listener on a magical and memorable journey throughout tales and songs of Latvia and other nations, throughout songs both sweeping and nuanced, broad in scope and intimate. The voices of the choir join together to lift these songs and bring them to life, majestically presenting these legends and stories. Ešenvalds’ choir music, in the hands of an exceptionally talented choir like Latvija, is a memorable musical accomplishment.

For further information, please visit Ēriks Ešenvalds’ website and the State Choir Latvija website.

No neatminamiem laikiem

State Choir Latvija

VAK Latvija, 2017

Track listing:

  1. My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose
  2. Ainava ar ganiem
  3. There Will Come Soft Rains
  4. Rivers of Light
  5. Northern Lights
  6. The First Tears
  7. O Danny Boy
  8. Aizej, lietiņ
  9. Ancient Prairie
  10. Rasa

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.

70th birthday CD celebrating defining voice of 70s in Latvia – Lapčenoks

Few voices in Latvian popular music are as recognizable as the voice of singer Viktors Lapčenoks. Throughout a decades-long career, many of the songs he has sung have become essential classics of the Latvian popular music repertoire. One could even say his voice was the defining voice of the 1970s in Latvia. To celebrate his many achievements, and to celebrate his 70th birthday in 2017, the record label MicRec released the latest entry in their Leģendas series with a collection of his best and most popular songs.

Lapčenoks’ powerful and distinctive voice are a major reason many of these songs remain popular even today, and it is not at all an exaggeration when music critic Daiga Mazvērsīte, in her liner notes to this collection, compares him to world famous rock singers like Robert Plant and David Coverdale. His crisp and clear delivery can be heard in songs like the all-time classics like ‘Zied ievas Siguldā’, ‘Kurzeme’, and ‘Inese’.

Though Lapčenoks worked with many composers, his primary compositional collaborator is Latvian popular music composer Raimonds Pauls. Their work together began in 1971, and, together, they produced an amazing collection of popular music songs.

Besides Lapčenoks’ collaboration with Pauls, the other artist that he frequently collaborated with was singer Nora Bumbiere, and this collection has six of their duets, including such popular songs as ‘Grieze’ and ‘Undīne’. One can see why they were a particularly popular duo, as their voices mesh together effortlessly, with their natural and professional sound.

Though many of the songs he performed were serious and dramatic, there are still moments of humor, for example on the swaggering rock ditty ‘Vardīte’, which, though sung from the point of view of a frog, is still one of the album’s highlights. One could say the same for the song ‘Ai-dundur-dundur-dun-dun-dun’, an otherwise silly song that is made memorable by Lapčenoks and Bumbiere.

Though many of the songs Lapčenoks recorded were popular songs, this collection does contain a few songs that are a bit more ambitious in scope, perhaps even progressive – for example, the expansive ‘Čakarnītis’, which is raised by Lapčenoks’ soaring, expressive vocals. The same could be said for ‘Manai dzimtenei’, which, though it became even more popular as a Song Festival song, Lapčenoks’ deeply emotional delivery revealed the strength and beauty of this song, and allowed it to grow into one of Pauls’ most popular songs of all time.

Of course, at times the powerful performances can become slightly overwrought, for example in the song ‘Varbūt’, a sentimental song about what might have been, but might have benefited from a more nuanced, subtle approach.

Distilling multiple decades and hundreds of songs onto a single CD is simply not possible, so there were quite a few tracks left out. One does wish that they included tracks with music by other composers that Lapčenoks has worked with throughout the years (all tracks on the album were composed by Raimonds Pauls). This is also not the first ‘best of’ release for Lapčenoks, as there have been multiple throughout the years, so long time fans may already have most of these songs on CD already, so perhaps it could have included a few more rarities and less frequently heard songs. However, as introductions to the artist, this is still an excellent, comprehensive collection.

Viktors Lapčenoks could very well be considered the voice of the 1970s in popular music in Latvia. Many of the songs he recorded remain immensely popular today. This Leģendas release, containing many of those songs, will reaffirm Lapčenoks as one of the greatest popular music singers in Latvian history, and serves as a fitting tribute to this monumental singer and his voice.

For further information, please visit the Viktors Lapčenoks website.

Leģendas

 

Viktors Lapčenoks

MicRec, MRCD 564, 2017

Track listing:

  1. Dziesmiņa par prieku
  2. Zilā
  3. Nekal mani gredzenā
  4. Kurzeme
  5. Inese
  6. Lana
  7. Varbūt
  8. Zied ievas Siguldā
  9. Sanāciet, sadziediet, sasadancojiet
  10. Kad saule aiziet
  11. Vardīte
  12. Čakārnītis
  13. Grieze
  14. Rudacīte
  15. Ai-dundur-dundur-dun-dun-dun
  16. Undīne
  17. Manai Dzimtenei
  18. Latviešu jūrniekiem
  19. Lapsenes nāve
  20. Tā diena

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.

2 CD set features best songs by Dzelzs vilks

Latvian rock band Dzelzs vilks, with their aggressive music and bleak lyrics, has been plying their trade for more than a quarter century. Their songs have a broad range of musical styles, including elements of industrial, punk, and heavy metal music, but also folk and traditional elements. To celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary, the group released a two CD set of their best songs – Dziesmas pilnmēness naktī – in 2016. The album collects songs from their many popular and acclaimed albums, such as 2003’s Ļauj man tevi, 2004’s Manās mājās sieviešu nav, and 2007’s Sārtā rītausma, among others.

The group, led by vocalist, guitarist and principal songwriter Juris Kaukulis, have achieved enduring popularity in Latvia for their very personal and emotional songs, often about failed and unhappy romantic entanglements, which have resonated with their listeners with their direct and often very explicit lyrics. Kaukulis’ distinct vocal style has been an integral part of their success, and one often hears pain and torment vividly in his vocals. Kaukulis is joined by Kaspars Tobis on synthesizers, drummer Mārcis Judzis and bassist Kārlis Aiviķis (though through most of their history, Armands Butkevičs provided bass).

Dark and foreboding elements are woven throughout their songs, such as ‘Draudzene nakts’, an ode to the approaching night, and, as noted by Kaukulis in the liner notes, the song was inspired in part by a tomcat that passed his window one midnight, and Kaukulis noticed the cat was missing an eye and an ear, and possibly some teeth as well. This dark image adds to the feeling of dread captured in Kaukulis’ vocals and lyrics.

Failed or short-lived relationships are often documented in detail in their songs, such as ‘Tev oranži mati’, ‘Vienas nakts meitene’, and ‘Vēlreiz’, with its cry of despair in lyrics like ‘Man vairs nav tev ko teikt, bet lūdzu ļauj aizmirst tevi’ (I have nothing further to say to you, but please let me forget you). Though deeply personal, the songs do occasionally veer into the territory of self-parody, such as on the silly ‘Dibenā rautais disko’ (a song so vulgar, Judzis requested that the song not be performed at one concert, as his mother was in the audience).

A particularly striking track is ‘Sažņaudz manas rokas’ (from 2009’s Dzelzs vilka teātris), which was the title song for the theatrical production of ‘Tas trakais, trakais Harijs’ (directed by Dž. Dž. Džilindzērs), and featuring vocalist Ilze Ķuzule-Skrastiņa. The song, built on an ominous sliding guitar riff, like many of their songs, expresses sentiments of alienation in lyrics like ‘Enģeļi tevi mīlēt nepratīs’ (Angels will not know how to love you).

Though the group’s history began in 1991, the earliest recording on this collection is 1997’s ‘Ja būtu man spārni’, a song whose rawness is in sharp contrast to their more polished recent recordings. Displaying a more hardcore approach, with heavily distorted guitars and growling, almost death metal-like vocals, the song still contains many elements that are still a part of their music today.

Dzelzs vilks have also dabbled in folk music with memorable results, particularly on their album Uijā uijā nikni vilki, released in 2008, and have collaborated with other folklore ensembles like Forshpil, and even created their own folklore ensemble – the Jauno Jāņu orķestris. This collection does not include any songs from their folk music explorations, which is unfortunate, as these were some of their strongest and most memorable efforts. Perhaps the group wanted to focus on their rock oeuvre on this collection, but leaving out their works in the folk genre disregards a large section of their creative output, and denies many potential new listeners from hearing this material.

Dziesmas pilnmēness naktī is a comprehensive and thorough display of Dzelzs vilks’ quarter century of uncompromising performances. The group has recorded many memorable songs throughout the years, and has shown a remarkable consistency in quality during this time. Though some may find it challenging to listen to songs that are almost uniformly bleak and somber, their words speak to many listeners with their directness and emotional frankness. Maintaining this kind of intensity for so many years is an admirable feat, and, as this collection shows, Dzelzs vilks have built up an impressive and memorable repertoire.

For further information, please visit the Dzelzs vilks website.

Dziesmas pilnmēness naktī

Dzelzs vilks

Upe tuviem un tāliem, UPEtt CD089, 2016

Track listing:

    CD1

  1. Viņa grib tik daudz
  2. Tu vilki nakti
  3. Tev oranži mati
  4. Skaiti līdz trīs
  5. Sažņaudz manas rokas
  6. Mēness
  7. Draudzene nakts
  8. Vienas nakts meitene
  9. Balerina
  10. Ļauj man tevi
  11. Bīstami vārdi
    CD2

  1. Auksto staru gaisma
  2. Meitene no sirds
  3. Manās mājās sieviešu nav
  4. Pret sienu
  5. Cilpa zem tilta (Miesnieks)
  6. Vilks
  7. Vēlreiz
  8. Dibenā rautais disko
  9. Dievi krīt
  10. Rīts
  11. Ziema
  12. Ledus
  13. Klau klau (cik sēri zvani)
  14. Ja būtu man spārni

 

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.