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.

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