Latvian Radio Choir’s “Daba un dvēsele” – works from golden era of choir music

The Latvian Radio Choir has long been acknowledged as not just one of the most talented choirs in Latvia, but also one of the most versatile. Through their diverse repertoire, they have established themselves as a truly singular choir, one that can expertly perform even the most complex and challenging of works. Though their focus is mainly on the modern, and often experimental repertoire, the Latvian Radio Choir, conducted by Kaspars Putniņš, do still occasionally delve into the classic repertoire.

In 2013, the choir released the CD Diena aust, a collection of performances of choir works from the ‘golden era’ of choir music (the first half of the 20th century), and have now followed that up with 2017’s Daba un dvēsele, a similar collection of Latvian choir classics, released by the Latvian national record label Skani as part of their Latvian Centennial series.

Perhaps the most popular choir music composer of that era was Emīls Dārziņš, whose choir compositions remain beloved and frequently performed, as well as being a central part of the Song Festival repertoire, more than a century later. Though his life was tragically cut short, in a brief period of time Dārziņš composed a number of wondrous works. On this set, the Latvian Radio Choir provides memorable renditions of the mystical ‘Senatne’, the tender and sentimental ‘Mēness starus stīgo’ and the anthemic ‘Lauztās priedes’.

Composer Emilis Melngailis took much inspiration from Latvian folklore, and this can be heard in the four part ‘Latvian Requiem’, with texts by Vilis Plūdonis and Rainis. This somber, weighty work traces the final journey, through glades of ferns, to one’s final resting place. The cycle concludes with the fateful, ‘Pastarā diena’, a tragic and even violent musical setting of the End of Days. The Latvian Radio Choir create an absorbing and, at times, unsettling interpretation of this final journey.

The supernatural is on display in Jānis Zālītis’ ‘Biķeris miroņu salā’, a mystical tale of a goblet on the Island of the Dead that gathers anguished souls. The lyrical and delicate ‘Mežā nakts ir ienākusi’, with the expressive poetry of Jānis Jaunsudrabiņš, is Jēkabs Graubiņš contribution, and here the Radio Choir show their exceptional ability to bring forth all the tiniest nuances of a song to make for a vivid portrayal of night in a forest.

The bulk of the songs on Daba un dvēsele are by composer Jāzeps Vītols, whose monumental contribution not just to Latvian choir music, but Latvian music in general, cannot be understated. For his time, he was a prolific innovator in choir music, be in dainty miniatures like ‘Mēnestiņš meloja’ or the expansive Bible scene of ‘Dāvids Zaula priekšā’. Vītols also was inspired by Latvian folklore and legends, and many of his songs put music to fables, like ‘Rūķīši un Mežavecis’. His sweeping lyricism, captured richly by the singing of the choir, can be heard on songs like ‘Diena beidzas’ and ‘Saules svētki’.

The CD booklet includes extensive notes on the composers and the compositions in both Latvian and English, as well as English translations of all the lyrics.

In the CD booklet, conductor Putniņš compares the recording of these songs to writing a love letter – which is an appropriate metaphor, considering that many of these songs are now an inseparable part of the Latvian cultural canon, and have inspired many a musician throughout the years. Conductor Kaspars Putniņš and the Latvian Radio Choir have clearly imbued all of these performances with love and respect, and, as a result, Daba un dvēsele is an exceptional and inspiring collection.

For further information, please visit the Latvian Radio Choir website and the Skani website.

Daba un dvēsele

Latvian Radio Choir

Skani, SKANI054, 2017

Track listing:

  1. Emīls Dārziņš – Senatne
  2. Emīls Dārziņš – Mēness starus stīgo
  3. Emīls Dārziņš – Lauztās priedes
  4. Emilis Melngailis – Daba un dvēsele
  5. Emilis Melngailis – Latviešu rekviēms – Pamazām brauciet
  6. Emilis Melngailis – Latviešu rekviēms – Pamazām, palēnām
  7. Emilis Melngailis – Latviešu rekviēms – Saule riet
  8. Emilis Melngailis – Latviešu rekviēms – Pastarā diena
  9. Jānis Zālītis – Biķeris miroņu salā
  10. Jēkabs Graubiņš – Mežā nakts ir ienākusi
  11. Jāzeps Vītols – Diena beidzas
  12. Jāzeps Vītols – Mēnestiņš meloja
  13. Jāzeps Vītols – Dūkņu sils
  14. Jāzeps Vītols – Rūķīši un Mežavecis
  15. Jāzeps Vītols – Karalis un bērzlapīte
  16. Jāzeps Vītols – Dāvids Zaula priekšā
  17. Jāzeps Vītols – Saules svētki

 

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.

Labvēlīgais tips release new album, filled with their usual good humour

Latvian satirical and irreverent group Labvēlīgais tips, seven years after their last album Kurvis (or ‘Basket’), returned in 2017 with the follow up, appropriately titled Kaste (or ‘Box’).

Kaste, their eleventh studio album, collects fourteen songs in the group’s inimitable style, again finding inspiration in topics that at first may seem mundane and ordinary, but, upon a closer look, they still find the comic elements in these everyday occurrences and situations.

The ensemble continues to use a veritable orchestra of instruments – singer Andris Freidenfelds is joined by keyboardist Normunds Jakušonoks, guitarist Ģirts Lūsis, Kaspars Tīmanis on trombone, Oskars Ozoliņš on trumpet, guitarist Artūrs Kutepovs, bass guitarist Pēteris Liepiņš, keyboardist Haralds Stenclavs and drummer Ainis Zavackis.

Labvēlīgais tips still display as much energy as when they started out, almost a quarter century ago, even with their seemingly commonplace topics, such as receiving lots of boxes in the mail in the song ‘Kaste’, or the contradictory need to be both brutal and romantic when wooing a woman in the song ‘Brutāls un romantisks’, or love driving one to madness in ‘Du bist spazieren’.

Still, when listening to these songs, there is a vague sense of having heard them before. For example, Labvēlīgais tips sang about the legendary thriftiness of Latvians in the song “Skopuļa serenāde” on their album Naukšēnu disko, and on Kaste there is a song in a similar vein – ’Pa lēto’. The band also have had songs that were ‘sea shanty’ type songs like ‘Bocmaņa dziesma’ or songs about the sea in general, like ‘Tā man iet’, and on Kaste there is a song in a similar style – ‘Dzimtais krasts’.

Otherwise the lyrics of the songs on Kaste are even more opaque and full of non-sequiturs than usual, making any kind of lyrical analysis impossible. Perhaps that is the point, as the group has always insisted there is no deeper meaning in their songs (though some might say that there is no meaning at all). This is made even clearer on songs like ‘Frāzes’, which is partly just common small talk phrases gathered together to make for a (rather uninteresting) song.

That is not to say there aren’t quite a few bright spots on the album – for example the bouncy ‘Ciemos pie malkas’, the catchy ‘Ciema aristokrāts’, or the low-key and dreamy ‘Bilbao’ are among the stand out tracks on the album.

One might have thought with seven years between studio albums allowing for a bit of creative battery recharging, the group would have come back with a set of stronger songs. Particularly when considering that Kurvis was a late career highlight for them, and perhaps even their best album. However, the songs on Kaste, though containing the right ingredients and their trademark irreverent attitude, are simply not as strong as on other albums. Their most memorable songs have always been the ones about what might otherwise seem uninteresting – like a ride on a slow tram, a bus driving into someone’s garden, or a boisterous crowd at the Song Festival. However, the songs on Kaste rarely make much sense, and aren’t as catchy as their songs in the past. The group’s songs have been a bit of hit and miss throughout the years, particularly in their earlier career, when they were putting out a new album every year.

While Kaste may not reach the memorable heights of previous efforts (which is a bit of a surprise, considering how strong their previous album Kurvis was), the album still has many flashes of what makes Labvēlīgais tips one of the most endearing and enduringly popular of Latvian ensembles. The irreverence, often nonsensical lyrics, and general good humor in their songs have been their trademark, and Kaste does not diverge from that formula at all, though perhaps the songs embrace that formula too closely. Though there are a few occasional glimpses of brilliance, as a whole, Kaste is not one of their stronger efforts.

For further information, please visit the Labvēlīgais tips Facebook page.

Kaste

Labvēlīgais tips

LTIPS 003, 2017

Track listing:

  1. Doriana Greja vecā seja
  2. Kaste
  3. Brutāls un romantisks
  4. Ciemos pie malkas
  5. Frāzes
  6. Ciema aristokrāts
  7. Du bist spazieren
  8. Nianses
  9. Vīrs ar pleznu
  10. Bilbao
  11. Pa lēto
  12. Lai piepildās
  13. Aiza
  14. Dzimtais krasts

 

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.

Manta’s album “Karaliene Anna” stretches musical boundaries

Guitarist, singer and songwriter Edgars Šubrovskis has been, for decades now, a leading figure and creative force in the Latvian alternative music scene. With groups like Hospitāļu iela, Gaujarts, and, most recently, Manta, his distinctive vocals and creative songs have found a large audience in Latvia and elsewhere.

Manta’s self-titled debut album was released in 2014, and, with its quirky, catchy songs, at times humorous, at times menacing, as well as its retro electronic sound (courtesy of producer Ingus Baušķenieks, of Latvian electronic music innovators Dzeltenie pastnieki), was a landmark in Latvian alternative music. In fact, the album won the Zelta mikrofons award for best alternative album.

Manta returned with their follow-up album – Karaliene Anna – in 2017, again recorded and mixed by Baušķenieks, and which continued the development of the group’s sound and music in multiple different directions, some expected, and some unexpected and difficult. On the record, Šubrovskis is joined by Edgars Mākens on keyboards, Oskars Upenieks on synthesizers, and Raitis Viļumovs on percussion.

Even before the first listen, the album cover and booklet immediately give warning that this will be a darker and bleaker album. With its dark tones and blurry pictures, it is clear that this may be a challenging musical journey for some. Somber keyboard tones open the first track – ‘Zīme’, a song simply chronicling the staggered journey of a drunken man along the street, eventually collapsing. With its sound effects and dark, atmospheric sounds, this song sets the stage for the album, with Šubrovskis’ vocals at once dour and resonant.

The group certainly has more ambitious musical plans on Karaliene Anna, stretching musical boundaries, such as on the nearly nine minute space rock epic ‘Pārestības’. The lyrics, tinged with bitterness and sadness, provide the introduction to the extended jam that concludes the song, perhaps indicating a solitary journey in the vast emptiness of space.

The titular queen Anna has died, and the song is presented as a requiem for her (though, as is often the case in Šubrovskis’ songs, who might this queen be and why her death is so significant is unclear), however, the song is one of the most beautiful on the album, with its haunting synthesizer tones on top of a mournful piano melody.

The intentionally archaic electronic sounds frequently heard on the album are used with great effect on the song ‘Eva Eva’, a song that again has a twinge of romantic sadness, particularly in lyrics like ‘Pāris sadodas rokās. Tas ir tik skaisti. Bet mēs tie neesam.’ (A couple join hands, that is so beautiful – but it is not us).

One can perhaps see parallels in the progression from their 2014 album to Karaliene Anna in the progression of Šubrovskis’ earlier ensemble Hospitāļu iela. Their 2004 album Pilnmēness was also full of quirky, catchy songs, but subsequent albums (2005’s Nav centrs and 2007’s Pūķis became more and more eclectic and challenging). Perhaps Šubrovskis gravitates towards bleaker themes and sounds, as his singing style in many songs makes them sound like funeral dirges, with their slow and weighty vocals. Though Karaliene Anna was clearly meant as a gloomier, weightier album, one does miss the occasional flash of humor that appears in Šubrovskis’ songs.

Listeners who were hoping for a continuation of the unconventional yet catchy songs on their debut album may find the musical turns on Karaliene Anna to be difficult to follow, if not overly dreary. The album is also a far cry from the often light-hearted tunes from the earlier days of Hospitāļu iela. With its bleak and sorrowful songs, the album is emotionally draining to listen to. Still, those familiar with all the aspects of Šubrovskis’ long career will still find much familiar here, as well as many new sonic explorations and creative arrangements. With its dark tones and color palette, Karaliene Anna is often challenging, periodically rewarding, and another unexpected twist in the musical career of Edgars Šubrovskis.

For further information, please visit Manta’s Facebook page.

Karaliene Anna

Manta

Biedrība HI, 2017

Track listing:

  1. Zīme
  2. Rudensziema
  3. Halo
  4. Tьматериатьизм
  5. Krīspadsmit
  6. Pārestības
  7. Karaliene Anna
  8. Eva Eva
  9. Kaste ar sirdīm
  10. 8 bitu halo
  11. Bērni

 

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.