Besides leading the prestigious professional choir Latvija, the visionary Māris Sirmais also directs Kamēr…, generally considered to be the best amateur youth choir in Latvia. The choir’s accomplishments are stunning and include victories in several international competitions.
Founded in 1990, Kamēr… has worked directly with many distinguished composers and has released several compact discs.
A few years ago Kamēr… embarked on one of the most ambitious efforts in Latvian choir music history: the World Sun Songs project. The project was inspired by former President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, herself a researcher of Latvian folk songs and traditions, who mentioned to conductor Sirmais the great number of folk songs that reference the sun. That led to the idea of performing and recording a series of choir works about the sun by composers from around the world.
Seventeen composers from 16 different countries (from the United States to Uzbekistan, from South Africa to Japan) responded to the invitation, and the results were performed and released in 2008 on the two-disc World Sun Songs.
To assemble, learn and perform 17 brand new works is a feat that few other choirs would be able to accomplish. To be sure, this collection is not for the faint of heart. This is modern choir music, which can often be a challenge to sing, not to mention listen to. But for those who endeavor to make the 95-minute journey, the reward is substantial, as you have a collection of choir music by some of the best international composers.
Latvia is the only country represented by two different works, which book-end the collection. “Grezna saule debesīs” by Raimonds Pauls (A Resplendent Sun in the Sky, text by Inese Zandere) begins the set, while the 10-minute opus “Piedzimšana” (Birth) by Pēteris Vasks (text also by Zandere) closes it out.
Pauls’ lyricism and excellent sense of melody shine through the brief (less than two minutes) “Grezna saule debesīs.” Not too surprisingly, given his background as a composer of popular music, the song is the most accessible on this collection.
That an amateur choir was able to commission a work by Vasks is notable, considering the fact that the composer is not very prolific. True to Vasks’ style, “Piedzimšana” is ominous yet beautiful, with thundering drums performed by Rihards Zaļupe.
Uzbekistan’s Polina Medyulyanova provides the wordless vocal work “Ofiyat,” based upon “Yor-yor,” an Uzbek wedding song. The word ofiyat has multiple meanings, including “cleansing from sin,” “welfare” and “luck.” The work begins with pulsating melodies, featuring the women’s voices, that gradually expand to a crescendo with the men’s voices, then alternating lyrical melodies between the men’s and women’s voices.
Perhaps one of the most difficult works on the album is “Comme un arbuste” (Like a Tree) by Norwegian composer Bjorn Andor Drage, which begins with barely perceptible melodies and rhythms, which transform into a sombre middle, then an anxious and tense finale.
One of my favorites on this collection is “Imet loomas päikesele” (Creating a Miracle for the Sun) by Estonian composer Urmas Sisask. Influenced by astronomy, Sisask’s work combines both modern sounds with traditional Estonian melodies, to weave together a particularly beautiful musical tapestry.
Among other composers showcased on World Sun Songs are Giya Kancheli, John Taverner and John Luther Adams.
The packaging of the CDs contains copious liner notes, in English and in Latvian, both on the project itself as well as write-ups on each composer and the works they composed.
World Sun Songs is an extremely impressive collection not just of songs, but of performances by the amateur choir. Lyrical, melodic and captivating, these songs celebrating the sun from many different international perspectives are a worthy addition to the long list of the choir’s accomplishments.
World Sun Songs
Raimonds Pauls, Grezna saule debesīs
Sven-David Sandström, Ah! Sun-flower!
Polina Medyulyanova, Ofiyat
Bjørn Andor Drage, Comme un arbuste
Stephen Leek, Knowee
Thierry Pécou, Les effets du jour
Hendrik Hofmeyr, Desert Sun
John Tavener, The Eternal Sun
Urmas Sisask, Imet loomas päikesele
Leonid Desyatnikov, Утреннее размышление о божием величии
John Luther Adams, Sky With Four Suns
Vytautas Miskinis, Neiseik, Saulala
Ko Matsushita, Jubilate Deo
Dobrinka Tabakova, От Слънце Родена
Alberto Grau, Salve al celeste sol sonoro
Giya Kancheli, Lulling the Sun
Pēteris Vasks, Piedzimšana
On the Web
Official Web site for the youth choir Kamēr…, led by Māris Sirmais. EN LV
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