Female a cappella vocal group Latvian Voices have found success and have received much recognition in the short time since their founding in 2009. Having performed all over the world (the United States, Australia, Asia, and many European countries), winning many awards, and releasing multiple acclaimed albums, the groups’ fame and renown continues to grow. The group was also selected to be the musical ambassadors of Riga when it was the European Capital of Culture in 2014.
The past few years have seen many albums from the group. These include the albums inspired by Latvian folk songs – Tā kā taka (2011) and Sounds of Latvian Nature (2014) as well as a second Christmas themed album Zeit der Wunder (2014) – with German vocal group Viva Voce. At the end of 2015, the group released their latest album – Pāri robežām (Beyond Borders) which has a more popular music approach – vocal arrangements of some well-known popular songs, world music selections, as well as original compositions. Though the style of the album is a departure from their previous albums, Latvian Voices continue to display their talent and versatility, whatever the genre may be.
Latvian Voices, now a sextet, is made up of singers Laura Jēkabsone, Zane Stafecka, Andra Blumberga, Elīna Šmukste, Nora Vītiņa, and Laura Leontjeva. Many of the group members also actively work with Latvian choirs and vocal ensembles.
Though the group has moved away from the traditional and academic performances of their previous albums and has made a conscious decision to make an album that could potentially have world wide appeal (half of the songs on Pāri robežām are in English), the group has never shied away from the influences of popular music, which have been part of their repertoire since their first album – 2010’s Waving World Wide.
Group member Laura Jēkabsone also proves herself to be an adept songwriter and arranger, as the record includes Jēkabsone’s original works. These include the bouncy “Honey Tree” and the rousing “Pāri Robežām”.
Some of the arrangements stay quite faithful to the original, such as Jēkabsone’s arrangement of Alanis Morissette’s “Thank U”, where even Morissette’s vocal style is imitated. Then there is the arrangement of the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” which, for much of its running time, is almost unrecognizable.
Continuing the theme of being beyond borders, the group also presents their interpretation “Elas”, a song by Mercedes Peón, an artist from Galicia in northwestern Spain. To ensure authenticity, the singer even underwent special training in Galician pronunciation. Besides showing the group’s versatility, the song captures the spirit and enthusiasm of the original Iberian version.
For those that still expect the traditional and academic, Jēkabsone also provides her own music for one of poet Aspazija’s best known poems – “Mēness starus stīgo” (a challenge, considering that composer Emīls Dārziņš’ choir work with this text is one of the most popular Latvian choir compositions of all time). With the otherworldly vocalize at the introduction, the fantasy and mysticism of Aspazija’s poem is given a particularly ethereal feel. The absorbing portrayal, which reveres and enhances the text, is a fitting and satisfying conclusion to this musical journey.
A significant aspect of any record’s success is the producer, particularly in the case of Latvian Voices, where there are multiple singers and each voice needs to shine through clearly. For Pāri robēžām, the girls enlisted Latvian percussionist extraordinaire Rihards Zaļupe, who, as it turns out, is not just an excellent drummer, but has an excellent ear for production, as each individual voice can be heard with excellent clarity. Also, consequently, perhaps it is also no surprise that the album has a very significant percussive element, with many drumbeats and effects to be heard in many of the songs.
For some reason, the group does not identify either the original performers/songwriters for the songs or who arranged them – the information that appears in this review had to be taken from a recent concert program. Otherwise the CD booklet contains brief notes about the group and the concept of the album.
Though some listeners might have preferred the group continue with their Latvian folk song inspired performances, Pāri robežām is a natural, not to mention enjoyable, progression in their careers. Fusing popular, world music, and academic elements, the album is an engrossing listen. Beyond simply being excellent singers and arrangers, the group also displays an exceptional energy and vitality in their performances. In their short history the girls quickly made a name for themselves, and with each passing year become even more well-known on the world stage, and Pāri robežām, with its inspired arrangements and lively performances, should bring them the larger audience and appreciation they have earned and deserve.
For further information, please visit the Latvian Voices website.
SIA LV MUSIC, 2015
- Sākums un gals
- Pāri robežām
- Honey Tree
- Strawberry Fields
- Sleeping at the Wheel
- Thank U
- He Lives in You
- Dear Mr. Henry
- Mūsu laiks
- Mēness starus stīgo
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