Gifted Latvian pianist Zariņš melds classic and modern in one album

Latvian pianist Reinis Zariņš was the ‘artist in residence’ at Latvian Radio Klasika in 2018, which, among other benefits to the artist, provides a regular opportunity to not just perform, but to also have a significant say in repertoire. A multiple winner of the Latvian Great Music Award, Zariņš, who has performed throughout Europe and the United States, also works closely with Latvian composers and presents new works.

Among the compositions that have been dedicated to Zariņš is ‘Astoņstūris. Epizodes un sonāte’ (Octagon: Episodes and Sonata), a solo 8 movement piano cycle by Andris Dzenītis. Zariņš has placed this new cycle alongside another well-known 8 movement piano cycle – ‘’Kreisleriana’ by Robert Schumann. Zariņš recorded both cycles and released an album of them in 2019 entitled Kreisleriana. Octagon.

At first glance, besides each composition having 8 parts, there is very little similar between Dzenītis’ modern cycle and Schumann’s Romantic era cycle. Zariņš himself admits he ‘can’t precisely point out’ what links the two, beyond each series being a very personal composition and Dzenītis’ work having some Romantic elements in it.

Zariņš proves to be an adept interpreter of the tortured Schumann’s work. The Kreisleriana series goes through some rather dramatic and abrupt mood swings, from the nearly frantic first in the series ‘Äußerst bewegt’, and then in the much slower, resigned sixth section ‘Sehr langsam’. The final section, the playful ‘Schnell und spielend’ makes for a very dynamic showcase of Zariņš’ interpretive talents,

According to the liner notes, ‘Kreisleriana’ is based on the E. T. A. Hoffman character Kreisler, but with Schumann possibly drawing autobiographical parallels with him. One can sense that this work is a personal favorite of Zariņš’, considering the energy and fire he brings to the performance, Zariņš truly turns this into a kind of story. It is a work that Zariņš has performed many times throughout his life, and his familiarity and respect for the composition results in a highly satisfying performance.

The shift to Dzenītis’ ‘Octogon’ is a bit jarring, considering the centuries between the composition of these works. However, the first piece in the ‘Octogon’ series, the subdued and wispy ‘Elpot’ (or ‘Breathe’) is perhaps more of a prelude for the others, as its title would indicate, it provides a moment to take a breath, before the shrill, uneasy second piece – ‘Cikāžu roks’ awakens the listener with its bursts of sounds and moments of tense silence.

Dzenītis, much like one of his instructors, composer Pēteris Vasks, often includes themes of nature in his compositions, and ‘Octogon’ is full of them, such as in the brief ‘Dzeņa atbalss’ (Woodpecker Echo), where Zariņš goes as far as to tap on the piano itself, replicating the sound of the woodpecker.

Perhaps the most ‘traditional’ piece in the cycle is the melodic ‘Latviešu romance’ (Latvian Romance), where Dzenītis weaves together elements of dreams and sorrow to create a very tender, melancholic atmosphere, and Zariņš performance of the work is filled with nuance and emotional depth.

Dzenītis’ cycle ends with the longer piece ‘Triptihs-ikona’. The cycle is, per the composer, also inspired by travels in Greece, and this piece reflects ‘monasteries perched on the cliffs of ancient Meteora’, among other sacred elements, and brings the work to a meditative, peaceful conclusion.

With this pair of rather disparate solo piano cycles, Zariņš shows his skill in interpreting both well known Romantic works of another era such as Robert Schumann’s ‘Kreisleriana’ as well as more modern and abstract work such as Andris Dzenītis’ ‘Octagon’. Equally at home in both the classic and the modern, Zariņš, a truly gifted pianist, presents both works vividly and memorably.

For further information, please visit Reinis Zariņš website and the Skani website

Reinis Zariņš, piano

Kreisleriana. Octagon.

LMIC/SKANI 071, 2019

Track listing:


1. Äußerst bewegt

2. Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch

3. Sehr aufgeregt

4. Sehr langsam

5. Sehr lebhaft

6. Sehr langsam

7. Sehr rasch

8. Schnell und spielend


9. Elpot

10. Cikāžu roks

11. Zaļās ēnas

12. Dzeņa atbalss

13. Sv. mehānika

14. Latviešu romance

15. Sonāte

16. Triptihs-ikona

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area . 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.

Liepāja Symphony Orchestra perform dynamic works of Latvian composers on second concerti CD

The Liepāja Symphony Orchestra has long had close relationships with many Latvian composers. The Orchestra actively promotes new works, and many composers have written works dedicated to the Orchestra or works for the Orchestra to premiere. This culminated with the Liepāja Concerti project, where twelve Latvian composers were invited to compose a concerto for the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra to perform and record.

The first volume, entitled Liepāja Concerti Vol. I, was released in 2017, and contained concertos by composers Rihards Dubra, Vilnis Šmīdbergs, Ēriks Ešenvalds, Juris Karlsons and Kārlis Lācis, and was released by the Odradek record label.

The second volume, Liepāja Concerti II, was released in 2018 by the Latvian national record label Skani, and the two CD collection contains works by composers Kristaps Pētersons, Andris Dzenītis, Arturs Maskats, Andris Vecumnieks, and Platons Buravickis. All the works are from live performances conducted by former artistic director of the LSO, Atvars Lakstīgala.

Kristaps Pētersons’ Second Liepāja Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, a single movement work, begins with a tentative, plucked cello melody, performed by Kristīne Blaumane. Blaumane’s cello performance is full of sound effects, reflecting the variety of sounds the cello can produce. As the orchestra joins in, the tension rises within the work, with Blaumane’s cello at times harsh, other times ominous. At times it even sounds like Blaumane is in conflict with the orchestra, almost in battle, or perhaps trying to escape. This conflict continues until the subdued conclusion of the work, which ends with a few wistful, barely audible cello tones.

A crash of piano, performed by celebrated Latvian pianist Vestards Šimkus, introduces the First Liepāja Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, by Andris Dzenītis. Entitled ‘Duality’, which, as per the composer, is meant to reflect the suffering and misery that can arise when something is divided. The composer even uses the word ‘anarchy’ when describing the work, and this is certainly a description that many listeners will think of, considering the way the instruments seem to thrash against each other. The weighty one movement work, at almost forty minutes, can be an exhausting, even terrifying listen. However, there are moments of serenity and calm which balance out the more turbulent elements, and Šimkus provides a bravura performance throughout this challenging work, particularly in the range of emotions displayed in the extended piano solo section.

The third concerto in this collection, Arturs Maskats’ Twelfth Liepāja Concerto for Piano and Orchestra offers a rather dramatic contrast with the first two works. Maskats is known for his melodic, even delicate works, and his three movement concerto features many of the often theatrical flourishes the composer is known for. Pianist Reinis Zariņš crafts an engrossing atmosphere, particularly in the second movement, entitled ‘Dances for the Moonlight’, where Zariņš’ piano flows together with the sound of the orchestra to conjure a romantic evening.

The Trio ‘Art-I-Shock’ feature on composer Andris Vecumnieks’ Fifth Liepāja Concerto ‘Concertino Art-I-Shock’. The trio, made up of Guna Šnē on cello, Elīna Endzele on percussion and Agnese Egliņa on piano, provide an energetic and nuanced performance. Though the work has five movements, each is brief, almost like individual miniatures, which come together to form a multicolored performance. At times playful and even humorous, other times sentimental, Vecumnieks weaves together French, Italian, and his own elements to create a vivid engaging musical story.

The final work in the collection, composer Platons Buravickis’ Eleventh Liepāja Concerto for Voice and  Orchestra features the vocal talents of soprano Julianna Bavarska. Bavarska’s singing, a wordless vocalize, is often beautiful, but also tense, soaring above the deliberate, methodical performance of the orchestra. The music, which at times sounds like a military march, particularly in the staccato brass instruments, is at times relentless in its progress, while Bavarska’s voice is in a near-constant state of motion, not seeming to pause at all.

The five works on Liepāja Concerti II highlight the broad universe of sound and style that can be found in modern Latvian academic music. From passages of harsh dissonance to moments of sublime beauty, conductor Atvars Lakstīgala and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra lead listeners through a myriad of sonic explorations and journeys and prove themselves to be peerless interpreters of these diverse and dynamic works that highlight the creative abilities of Latvian composers.

For further information, please visit the Skani website and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra website.

Liepāja Concerti II

LMIC / SKANI 065, 2018

Track listing


1. Kristaps Pētersons – Second Liepāja Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, dedicated to Visvaldis Ziediņš

Kristīne Blaumane, cello

2. Andris Dzenītis – First Liepāja Concerto for Piano and Orchestra “Duality” (2010) / 40:42

Vestards Šimkus, piano


Arturs Maskats – Twelfth Liepāja Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (2017) / 27:56

Reinis Zariņš, piano

1. Dances for the Spring Rain and Wind

2. Dances for the Moonlight

3. Dances for the Dawn

Andris Vecumnieks – Fifth Liepāja Concerto “Concertino Art-i-Shock”

Trio Art-i-Shock: Guna Šnē, cello; Elīna Endzele, percussion; Agnese Egliņa, piano

4. Grazioso I

5. Quasi valse. Con sentimento

6. Toccata

7. Quasi valse. Senza sentimento

8. Grazioso II

9. Platons Buravickis – Eleventh Liepāja Concerto for Voice and Orchestra (2016)

Julianna Bavarska, soprano

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area . 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.

New York Latvian Concert Choir releases Christmas CD

New York Latvian Concert Choir (Ņujorkas latviešu koris) has released its latest Christmas themed CD, entitled Ziemassvētki laika vējos (or Latvian Christmas in the Winds of Time). Released by Albany Records (TROY1851, 2020), the CD collects works by Latvian composers Laura Jēkabsone, Mārtiņš Brauns, Andrejs Jansons, and Andris Sējāns.

The NYLCC has released many CDs, all containing original compositions dedicated to the choir. Other CDs released by the choir include Christmas in Latvia, Latvian Winterfest, and Christmas Joy in Latvia, a release that was profiled in Rolling Stone magazine, who also declared it one of the 25 best Christmas albums.

On the album, recorded in Latvia at the Latvian Radio Studio in January of 2020, the NYLCC is joined by several other choirs and ensembles – the youth choir Balsis, the women’s choir Balta, the chamber choir Fortius, and the Latvian National Opera Chamber Orchestra. All the works were conducted by the NYLCC artistic director Laura Padega Zamura.

For further information, please visit the New York Latvian Concert Choir Facebook page and the Albany Records website.

Track listing:

  1. Ziemassvētku kantāte “Gausi nāca, drīz aizgāja” – Laura Jēkabsone
    Ziemassvētku cikls Ņujorkas latviešu korim – Mārtiņš Brauns
  2. Vienīgais
  3. Bērna lūgšana
  4. Egles
  5. Sniedziņš
  6. Uguntiņa
    Ziemassvētku kantāte – Andrejs Jansons
  7. Ziema nāk
  8. Šupuļdziesma
  9. Ķekatu dziesma
  10. Svētceļnieku dziesma
    7 O Antifoni – Andris Sējāns, Dabas koncertzāle
  11. O Sapientia
  12. O Adonai
  13. O Radix Jesse
  14. O Clavis David
  15. O Oriens
  16. O Rex Gentium
  17. O Emmanuel

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area . 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.