Double CD features organist Aigars Reinis’ rendition of music by Alfrēds Kalniņš

Early 20th century Latvian composer Alfrēds Kalniņš (1879–1951) was one of the founding fathers of Latvian classical music. He is the composer of Baņuta, considered to be the first Latvian opera, as well as several choral songs and solo songs.

Kalniņš was also a proficient organist and was quite possibly the most famous concert organist in Latvia during his time. Such was his talent and renown that he had the opportunity to spend many years in the late 1920s and early 1930s in New York City, where he also worked and performed.

Consequently, among Kalniņš’ many contributions to Latvian classical music are his broad and extensive list of compositions for the organ. Recognizing his contribution to this field, the Latvian national record label Skani release a 2 CD collection of Kalniņš’ organ music in 2023, simply entitled Ērģeļmūzika (Organ Music), performed by distinguished Latvian organist Aigars Reinis on the world famous Rīga Cathedral organ.

The opera Baņuta is Kalniņš’ magnum opus, and this collection includes the author’s organ transcriptions of two pieces from the opera – “Svinīgs ievads” (The Stately Overture) and “Sēru maršs” (Funeral March). The overture is resplendent and celebratory, while the march is tragic and somber, and Reinis adeptly moves between these sharply contrasting moods, bringing forth the needed emotional weight in his performance.

Kalniņš time in New York City was a particularly enriching experience and the many artists he met and collaborated with there (including virtuoso organist Samuel Baldwin) inspired several compositions. The CD booklet includes a humorous note about how Kalniņš would take a portable table to Central Park and compose there. Among the works composed there were “Introduzione et Allegro”, a dramatic and lyrical work that concludes in a flurry of activity, perhaps influenced by the constant motion of the city. This contrasts with another work of that time, “Klostera idille” (Cloister Idyll), a work with a sacred mood, contemplative and reflective.

Among Kalniņš’ contemporaries was perhaps the most significant composer of the era of Latvia’s first independence – Jāzeps Vītols. During World War II, Vītols went into exile in Germany, while Kalniņš remained in Latvia during the Soviet occupation and became the rector of the Latvian State Conservatory. As one of his final compositions, Kalniņš composed a series of variations on a theme by Jāzeps Vītols. As musicologist Arnolds Klotiņš explains in the CD booklet, this was an especially provocative move by Kalniņš, as not only was Vītols considered to be persona non grata by the Soviet authorities, Kalniņš took it a step further by using a sacred theme by Vītols – “Jēzu, saule mana” (Jesus, my Sun) – a pointed message to the atheistic communist regime. This defiant gesture at the close of his career and life reinforced Kalniņš’ reputation as a truly Latvian composer. The variations, full of reverence for his colleague, have a celebratory and joyful mood about them, and organist Reinis skillfully uses the expansive sounds of the organ of the Riga Cathedral to imbue the performance with a rich resonance.

Over these two CDs of organ music, the listener will appreciate not just Alfrēds Kalniņš’ compositional skill, but also his significant contribution to the development of the Latvian organ music repertoire. Kalniņš wove together the traditions of the 19th century (and earlier) with the more modern approaches of the early 20th century to create a collection of works that provided a solid foundation for Latvian music in the decades beyond. Organist Aigars Reinis, using the full capabilities and sonic range of the organ of the Riga Cathedral, provides lush and resonant performances of these works, reaffirming Kalniņš’ place as one of the great Latvian composers.

For further information, please visit the Skani website.

Alfrēds Kalniņš – Ērģeļmūzika

Aigars Reinis, organ

LMIC/SKANI 149, 2023

Track listing:

CD 1

1. Fantāzija

2. Pastorāle nr. 1

3. Introduzione et Allegro

4. Cloister Idyll

5. Scherzo

6. Christmas Lullaby

7. Kāzu maršs

8. Procesija

9. Variācijas par Jāņa Kalniņa tēmu

CD 2

1. Agitato

2. Svētvakars

3. Svinīgs ievads no operas Baņuta

4. Sēru maršs no operas Baņuta

5. Prelūdija

6. Pastorāle nr. 2

7. Variācijas par Jāzepa Vītola tēmu

8. Himna manai dzimtajai zemei

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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