Latvian opera singer Egils Siliņš’ new CD titled “Latvian Songs”

Latvian bass baritone Egils Siliņš, perhaps the best known Latvian opera singer internationally, has graced stages all over the world, including the New York Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House in London, La Scala in Milan, and many others. His career has spanned multiple decades, and has won many awards for his performances. With engagements all over the world, he rarely has time to return to his native Latvia, but he still manages to perform for Latvian audiences when he can.

Though Siliņš’ repertoire includes operas from all over the world, he continues to sing works by Latvian composers, raising awareness of these works. One such event was his solo concert at the Jūrmala Dzintari Hall on October 31, 2015, where he performed vocal works by Latvian composers, accompanied by pianist Māris Skuja. The concert was recorded, and is now available on CD with the simple, laconic title Latvian Songs. The CD was released by the Latvian Music Information Centre’s record label Skani as part of their Centennial Series, in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the Latvian nation in 1918.

And what better way to celebrate Latvia’s centennial with some of the greatest Latvian solo songs? The collection gathers many beloved songs from the 20th century (particularly from the early 20th century, from the time of Latvia’s first independence), and is an excellent and valuable gift to Latvia.

Siliņš’ versatility makes him an ideal choice to interpret these songs. The songs, obviously quite different than the Wagnerian works that Siliņš routinely performs, require a much gentler, personal touch. Particularly the works of Latvian composer Emīls Dārziņš, himself a particularly fragile, tragic persona. As many Latvian composers of the early 20th century, Dārziņš’ works are romantic, sentimental, and, appropriately for a Latvian composer, melancholic. Songs like “Teici to stundu, to brīdi” and “Aizver actiņas un smaidi” which remain not just cornerstones of the Latvian solo repertoire, but also beloved favorites, allow Siliņš to exhibit a more tender side, with Skuja’s accompaniment allowing for a particular intimacy. Dārziņš was also multi-faceted, such as in the atypical dramatic work “Spāniešu romance” (lyrics by Vilis Plūdonis, based on a work by Pushkin), where Siliņš commands: ‘Parādies!’ (Appear!) to the beautiful Spanish maiden.

Perhaps the most significant figure in 20th century Latvian classical music is Jāzeps Vītols, and this collection also includes many of his works. Though Vītols also had his share of romantic songs, such as “Pie tava augstā, baltā loga”, his songs also entered the realms of the fantastic, such as “Biķeris miroņu salā”, a mystical poem by poet Jānis Poruks about a goblet that gathers uneasy spirits on the island of the dead. Siliņš’ performance accentuates the mysterious and tragic in this work, engrossing the listener in this dark tale.

Though the bulk of the collection is early 20th century works, the CD also includes works by diaspora Latvian composers, for example, Bruno Skulte, who lived in exile in New York. As with many exiled Latvians, the loss of Latvia was tragic and heartbreaking, and this is reflected in Skulte’s work “Sapņu zeme” (lyrics by Kārlis Zāle). This wistful song – an ode to a lost dreamland – again reflects a more personal touch by Siliņš, particularly in the closing moments, where Siliņš sings “Tu tālā Dievzemīt, Tu mana Latvija” (Only you, dearest land, so far away, Only you, my Latvia). Also on the collection is “Miestiņš” by Canadian Latvian Tālivaldis Ķeniņš, an idyllic, slightly humorous and somewhat nostalgic work about a picturesque small village. Māris Skuja’s piano plays a particularly active role here, perhaps indicating the bustling activity, as Siliņš describes the inhabitants (such as the butcher, who is always talking).

The album also includes songs by composers Jānis Kaniņš, Emilis Melngailis, Alfrēds Kalniņš, Jānis Mediņš, and Arvīds Žilinskis. There are notes on Siliņš and Skuja in Latvian and English, and all of the song lyrics are provided (with English translations).

Latvian Songs captures not just one of the most significant, but easily one of the best concerts in Latvia in recent years. Egils Siliņš reaffirms his place as one of the premiere vocalists not just in Latvia, but worldwide, and, as is shown by this performance, he is also a premiere interpreter of these Latvian vocal masterworks. Celebrating one hundred years of Latvian vocal works, as performed by Egils Siliņš, Latvian Songs is truly one of the greatest gifts Latvia could receive.

For further information, please visit the Skani record label website.

 egils-silins-latvian-songs-001

Egils Siliņš

Latvian Songs
LMIC, SKANI 045, 2016

Track listing:

    Emīls Dārziņš

    1. Teici to stundu, to brīdi
    2. Kad būs as’ras izraudātas
    3. Vēl tu rozes plūc
    4. Aizver actiņas un smaidi
    5. Sāpju spites
    6. Mana laime
    7. Kā zagšus
    8. Spāniešu romance

Jānis Kalniņš

      1. Par katru stundu

Emilis Melngailis

      1. Zeltītas lapas

Alfrēds Kalniņš

      1. Rudeņa zieds
      2. Brīnos es…

Jāzeps Vītols

      1. Pie tava, augstā, baltā loga
      2. Baltā bērza šupolītē
      3. Biķeris miroņu salā
      4. Kokļu skaņas
      5. Orhidejas sapnis
      6. Aizver actiņas un smaidi
      7. Man prātā stāv vēl klusā nakts
      8. Klausies, spulgacīt!

Jānis Mediņš

      1. Aka
      2. Glāsts

Tālivaldis Ķeniņš

      1. Miestiņš

Bruno Skulte

      1. Sapņu zeme

Arvīds Žilinskis

      1. Aktiera mūžs

       

      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.

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