New album features Raimonds Pauls’ choral works

Latvian popular music legend Raimonds Pauls, who celebrated his 80th birthday in 2016, is unquestionably the most significant figure in Latvian music in the second half of the 20th century. Composing the music for literally thousands of songs, including timeless classics such as ‘Mežrozīte’, ‘Mēmā dziesma’, and ‘Tā es tevi mīlēšu’, to name just a few, he long ago ensured his place as the most significant Latvian composer in modern history.

Though Pauls is best known for his popular songs, as a prolific composer he has written in many different genres, including jazz and choir music. Recognizing the significance of his contribution to Latvian choir music, the State Choir Latvija and conductor Māris Sirmais recorded an album of Pauls’ choir music entitled Rozes gars, released in 2016.

As popular as Pauls’ music is, his choir songs are not as well known. His best known choir song – ‘Manai dzimtenei’, a regular part of the Song Festival repertoire, actually began life as a pop song (and, it should be noted, is not included in this collection). Beyond that song, choir songs by Raimonds Pauls are not frequently encountered in choir repertoires. Perhaps that is one of the reasons Sirmais and Latvija decided to record and present these songs, as there are many hidden and neglected treasures among Pauls’ choir works, and reveal many facets of Pauls’ compositional style.

The choir song ‘Rozes gars’ (lyrics by Jānis Peters), which gives this collection its title, is dedicated to composer Emīls Dārziņš. It is an appropriate dedication, as the work could be considered a spiritual successor to Dārziņš’ romantic and emotional works written at the turn of the 20th century. The choir, with their at once precise and emotive performance, provides the necessary tenderness and delicacy for this work.

One of Pauls’ earlier choir compositions is his music for the famous Latvian epic poem ‘Tālavas taurētājs’ by Rūdolfs Blaumanis. The poem, about a trumpeter who sacrifices his life to ensure King Miervaldis and his people are awoken in time to defend against plague of demons that are approaching the castle, provides a number of different stylistic opportunities to musically present the events. Still, though, perhaps due to being one of Pauls’ early choir compositional attempts, though the music closely follows the story, it does seem a bit ‘academic’ at times. Here is the heroic section, and here is the tense section, and here is the mournful section, and so on. However, Pauls’ music does provide an appropriately theatrical interpretation of Blaumanis’ poetry.

Most of the compositions on the album are very brief – three minutes in length or less. However, Pauls is clearly most comfortable and adept with these miniature forms. For example, the song ‘Grezna saule debesīs’ (lyrics by Inese Zandere, and originally composed for the youth choir Kamēr… as part of their World Sun Songs project). This short song, with its jazzy elements and complex and colorful chords, paints a beautiful portrait with Zandere’s lyrics about the sun and the Daugava River.

Of course, Raimonds Pauls’ talents for catchy melodies also imbue many of the works in this collection, such as ‘Lielais vaicājums’, featuring Pauls himself on the piano. With its easy, rolling melody alongside the spiritual text by long time Pauls lyrical collaborator Jānis Pēters, the song is one of many examples of how Pauls’ melodic talents can easily fit into a choir setting.

The collection comes in a handsome velvety book, and includes all the lyrics, as well as biographical notes on Pauls, Sirmais, and the choir in Latvian, English, and Russian.

With the State Choir Latvija, undoubtedly one of the best choirs in the world, and with veteran and visionary conductor Māris Sirmais, these choir works by Raimonds Pauls come alive on Rozes gars. Not that Raimonds Pauls’ compositional talents were ever in any doubt, but this collection shines a new light on this somewhat less familiar section of Pauls’ oeuvre. Rozes gars is a fitting tribute to the choir music of Raimonds Pauls – a composer who has been an essential part of Latvian music for more than half a century.

For further information, please visit the State Choir Latvia website

State Choir “Latvija”

Rozes gars
2017

Track listing:

      1. Rozes gars
      2. Izšuj mani, māmuliņa
      3. Gaismiņ, teci man pa priekšu
      4. Taurenis lilijas kausā
      5. Gleznotājs
      6. Bērzu birzīte
      7. Man pazudis cīrulis
      8. Piena krūze
      9. Tēvis, māmuliņa
      10. Grezna saule debesīs
      11. Ja man saule roku dotu
      12. Dārzs ziemā
      13. Nīcas dziedātājas pirtnieku mates piemiņai
      14. Akmeņi Vidzemes jūrmalā
      15. Tālavas taurētājs
      16. Div’ Piebalgas pravieši
      17. Šūpļa dziesma
      18. Rotaļu dziesma
      19. Vairs nesēro…
      20. Smejies, puce
      21. Maniem vecākiem
      22. Pie savas mates
      23. Ozols
      24. Lielais vaicājums

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.

Elizabeta Lāce’s album Mōaigā a celebration of the Liv culture

Harpist, songwriter, and vocalist Elizabeta Lāce released her first solo album in 2016. Entitled Mōaigā (or Zemesmala in Latvian, or Landside), the album is a collection of experimental instrumental works, performed entirely on the harp. Lāce, who has performed with groups such as Sus Dungo and Dzelzs vilks, has always been a major creative force in Latvian music, and this album has her branching out in yet another direction.

The album title – Mōaigā – is from the Liv language, and Lāce intended the album to be a celebration of the Liv culture, especially considering that there are very few Liv left. Lāce herself has been studying Liv culture and history, and these studies provided the inspiration for this album.

The atmospheric nature of the album becomes clear with the opening sounds of the song ‘Smiltis’, with the sound of the rustling wind then giving way to a slow procession of notes, evoking a late night or early morning stroll on a beach devoid of any other people. The song ends as quietly as it begins, and seems to almost drift away into the sea.

The song ‘Vētra’ (or Storm) is actually not as tempestuous as the title might indicate, though the deliberate progression of notes on the harp, gradually building to a crescendo, indicates a perhaps more emotional storm, which then slowly tapers off and recedes.

The serene and sacred atmosphere of a walk through a cemetery is presented in ‘Kapsēta’, perhaps the quietest work on this album of hushed songs. Elements of the Latvian folksong ‘Ej, saulīte, drīz pie dieva’ can be heard, and Lāce intertwines the melody with her own vision of a somber search for a particular headstone.

The most ominous work is ‘Ugunskoks’, which is dedicated to the Jews that died at the Salaspils concentration camp during World War II. Its low rumblings, indicating a sense of dread and fear, gradually build in emotional tension, making for unnerving and disturbing listening.

Though the album is purely instrumental (managing to get not just music, but all kinds of sounds from a harp), the booklet with the CD does include some poetry and stories (in Liv, Latvian and English), perhaps as a guide for better understanding of the musical works. Oddly, the booklet makes no mention of those that worked on the album (such as sound engineer Gundars Rullis or Alis P – with whom Lāce played on his album Ciparu pasaule). The album booklet also contains photographs taken by Lāce in locations where Livs live.

The improvisational and ambient style gives the album an overall dreamy feel, though one does wish at times that there had been a few more active, energetic sections to balance the calm and serene ones, though it is clearly intentional that the album moves at such a slow pace, perhaps as a balance against the frenetic modern world.

Elizabeta Lāce, at once creative and slightly eccentric (she once staged a performance while sitting in a rowboat full of water and slowly submerging herself) has made an album that showcases her creativity, but may be difficult to understand for some listeners. Some may hear a captivating sonic journey through nature, while others may just hear someone absentmindedly plucking at a harp for almost an hour. As it is indeed experimental harp music, absent of clear melodies, it does require a bit of imagination to enjoy and appreciate. The songs do tend to blend into one another, which is perhaps the idea, as it is meant to evoke a stroll by the sea, through the woods, and other depictions of natural phenomena. Elizabeta Lāce, on her album Mōaigā, utilizes her extensive musical and creative talents to present many unexpected and unusual aspects of the harp in her unique vision of nature.

Elizabeta Lace - Zemesmala 001

 

Elizabeta Lāce

Mōaigā
2016

Track listing:

      1. Smiltis
      2. Vētra
      3. Dieva suņu ēnas
      4. Vējš
      5. Nakts
      6. Cilvēki
      7. Langa
      8. Diena
      9. Ugunskoks
      10. Kapsēta
      11. Saulriets
      12. Laiks

 

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.

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.