Liepāja SO album features music inspired by Latvian nature

Throughout the years, many superlatives have been used to describe nature and the natural objects in Latvia. Latvian nature has inspired artists and art of all kinds – paintings, stories, poems, and also many pieces of music.

Recognizing this, the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Guntis Kuzma, selected several symphonic works that were, directly or indirectly, inspired by Latvian nature. The works selected are from throughout the history of Latvian symphonic music (nearly a century and a half) and were released in 2022 on the album Flowering Jasmine (or Plaukstošais jasmīns).

The collection spotlights both well-known names and works by composers that are heard less often these days, presenting a variety of styles, displaying some of the trends and evolution of Latvian symphonic music over the last century. Most of the works included here, regardless of when they were written, could be characterized as being in a romantic (or romantic inspired) style – even though some of the works were written a century apart, the collection flows almost naturally – no jarring or harsh selections here.

Ādolfs Skulte’s celebratory ‘Uvertīra’ (or ‘Overture’) opens this collection. Full of sweeping orchestra flourishes and almost playful melodies, the work exhibits Skulte’s mastery of the symphonic form (he has nine symphonies, among many other symphonic works, to his credit).

No Latvian symphonic music compilation would be complete without a selection from perhaps Latvia’s greatest symphonist – Jānis Ivanovs. On Flowering Jasmine, that is ‘Varavīksne’ (Rainbow). Ivanovs often was inspired by nature (particularly the nature of the Latgale region), and often looked for the relationships between colors and sounds, which is displayed brightly in this work.

Alfrēds Kalniņš’ ‘Pie Staburaga’ is a tribute to the limestone cliff on the Daugava River. Written before the sinking of the cliff (in 1966, when building the Pļaviņas hydroelectric plant, that section of the river was flooded, leaving Staburags underwater), the reverent work paints a dramatic picture of the cliff, which was not just a major natural Latvian monument, but a place steeped in mysticism and folklore.

The works of Georgs Pelēcis have become popular throughout the world, perhaps due to the composer’s deceptively simple style, skill with melody, and, most of all, the pure beauty of his music. The work ‘Plaukstošais jasmīns’ with its tender, almost fragile string melodies, is enhanced by the haunting melody of the vibraphone, played here by Marta Kauliņa.

The collection also includes works by Jānis Porietis (the melancholic, affecting ‘Rīts’), Jānis Ķepītis (the reserved, gently flowing ‘Liriskā balāde’), Ādolfs Ābele (‘Meditācija’ – full of introspection and richly emotional), Agris Engelmanis (‘Zīmējums sēpijas tonī’  – pulsating and in a state of near constant motion), and Ēriks Ešenvalds (‘Noktirne’ – mysterious and intriguing, and inspired, like many of his works, by the poet Sara Teasdale, featuring the orchestra whispering lines from her poem ‘Twilight’).

The CD booklet offers not just details on the compositions, but also offers interesting, even humorous anecdotes and details about the composers themselves. For example, Ādolfs Skulte was an adept repairman, and was able to fix the gearbox on his Volga car himself, Jānis Ķepītis was also a skilled beekeeper, and that Ādolfs Ābele never used an ashtray when he smoked (which regularly resulted in ash on both his shirts and his piano).

Revealing not just the richness of Latvian nature, but also the richness of Latvian symphonic music, the collection of nine symphonic poems and miniatures found on Flowering Jasmine presents works from more than a century of Latvian music. Vividly performed by the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra and conductor Guntis Kuzma, this collection offers both a broad, engaging panorama of music and an enveloping, absorbing journey through the nature of Latvia.

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

Flowering Jasmine

Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, conductor Guntis Kuzma

LMIC/SKANI 127, 2022

Track listing:

1. Ādolfs SKULTE Uvertīra / Ouverture

2. Jānis IVANOVS Varavīksne / Rainbow

3. Alfrēds KALNIŅŠ Pie Staburaga / At Staburags

4. Georgs PELĒCIS Plaukstošais jasmīns / Flowering Jasmine

5. Jānis PORIETIS Rīts / Morning

6. Jānis ĶEPĪTIS Liriska balāde / Lyrical Ballad

7. Ādolfs ĀBELE Meditācija (Vientulībā) / Meditation (In Solitude)

8. Agris ENGELMANIS Zīmējums sēpijas tonī / Illustration in Sepia

9. Ēriks EŠENVALDS (1977) Noktirne / Nocturne

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.

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