Liepāja Symphony Orchestra bring to life works of 12 Latvian composers

One of the most ambitious projects in Latvian academic music history was the ‘Liepāja Concerti’ project – the commissioning of twelve concertos by twelve different Latvian composers, to be performed and recorded by the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Atvars Lakstīgala. Over the course of the past decade, the composers, taking inspiration from the city of Liepāja, began producing a wide variety of musical offerings, meant not just to showcase Liepāja and its orchestra, but also the broad compositional talents of Latvian artists.

The concertos were also recorded, and the first set of recordings appeared in 2017. Entitled Liepāja Concerti Vol. I, the two CD set showcases concertos by Latvian composers Rihards Dubra, Vilnis Šmīdbergs, Ēriks Ešenvalds, Juris Karlsons and Kārlis Lācis, and it was released by the Odradek record label.

A mournful piano melody begins Rihards Dubra’s Liepāja Concerto No. 3 for piano and orchestra. Pianist Endijs Renemanis brings Dubra’s music vibrantly to life, as the single movement work grows in intensity as it quickly reaches a dramatic crescendo. In the middle of the work, the work takes a sudden turn from the intense atmosphere to a more introspective mood, as Renemanis, along with the orchestra, present a new facet to this performance, akin to a solitary stroll along a deserted beach in the Kurzeme region of Latvia. The final section of the work is majestic and vibrant, as the piano and orchestra come together in a thunderous, almost explosive, conclusion.

The first movement of Vilnis Šmīdbergs’ Liepāja Concerto No. 8 for violin and orchestra presents a mysterious atmosphere, with violinist Ilze Zariņa performing a mystical and magical melody. The second movement continues this development, developing into an ominous and almost frightening climax, as Zariņa’s violin acts as a kind of a narrator for the work, displaying a range of emotions and reactions. The final moment is full of tension, and its rapid tempo adds to the disquieting and uneasy ambience of the work. The orchestra provide an engrossing performance, all the way to the sudden and unexpectedly quiet end.

Natural phenomena have provided much inspiration for composer Ēriks Ešenvalds, and that is reflected also in his Liepāja Concerto No. 4 ‘Visions of Arctic Night’ for clarinet and orchestra. Much of the work is of a fleeting, temporal nature, much like the Northern Lights, yet has a richness and fullness, perhaps reflecting the Kurzeme region as well. Clarinetist Ints Dālderis presents these visions almost like painting a picture, bringing together the various colors and sounds to reveal these nocturnal scenes, particularly in the dramatic third movement.

The title of Juris Karlsons’ Liepāja Concerto No. 9 is ‘Gliese 581’, and was inspired by the discovery of the red dwarf star Gliese 581, whose planets are theorized to be able to generate and sustain life. These cosmic and universal elements pervade through this work, and Karlsons has said that the work is about ‘searching, erring, finding and longing’, and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra adeptly and adroitly bring forth all these elements in their performance, particularly in the middle section, where the orchestra sounds like ticking clocks, further enhancing the elements of space and time in the work.

The final concerto on this collection is Kārlis Lācis’ Liepāja Concerto No. 10 ’42.195’ for flute, oboe, and orchestra, and the numerical title indicates the number of meters in a marathon. As the work is inspired by running, there is a sense of constant movement, reflected in the performances of flutist Miks Vilsons and oboist Pēteris Endzelis. Though also a very dramatic work, the work distinguishes itself with the occasional light-hearted, even humorous, moment, such as the grand waltz that appears early in the work, as well as the jubilant and vivacious middle section.

Conductor Atvars Lakstīgala and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra have brought these disparate works vividly to life, revealing the many different styles and approaches of Latvian composers. Over the course of these two CDs, listeners will hear the many facets and elements of Latvian academic music, all adeptly presented by the orchestra and soloists.

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

Liepāja Concerti Vol I

Liepāja Symphony Orchestra

Odradek, ODRCD362, 2017

Track listing

CD 1

  1. Rihards Dubra – Liepāja Concerto No. 3 for piano and orchestra
  2. Vilnis Šmīdbergs – Liepāja Concerto No. 8 for violin and orchestra – I. Andante moderato
  3. II. Andante
  4. III. Presto

CD 2

  1. Ēriks Ešenvalds – Liepāja Concerto No. 4 for clarinet and orchestra – I. Inquieto – Misterioso
  2. II. Espressivo – Misterioso
  3. III. Maestoso – Grave – Limpido
  4. Juris Karlsons – Liepāja Concerto No. 9 ‘Gliese 581’
  5. Kārlis Lācis – Liepāja Concerto No. 10 ‘42.195’ for flute, oboe and orchestra

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.

Wide spectrum of Pērkons’ lesser-known gems now released

Latvian rock group Pērkons were one of the most popular, as well as significant, rock groups during the 1980s. Their songs provided much of the soundtrack for the Latvian Reawakening during the late 1980s, and even though the group fell foul of the Soviet authorities on more than one occasion, their popularity could not be diminished. Many of their songs, particularly their earliest songs, had a raw energy and unpolished roughness that provided a marked contrast with the polished, if occasionally bland, Latvian popular music of the early 1980s.  Pērkons also used the poetry of a younger generation of Latvian poets for their lyrics – poets like Māris Melgalvs and Klāvs Elsbergs. Even today, many of their songs still resonate – songs like ‘Balāde par gulbi’, ‘Zaļā dziesma’, ‘Mēs pārtiekam viens no otra’, among many others, are still beloved and sung today.

Throughout its history, Pērkons has been led by keyboardist, composer, and occasional vocalist Juris Kulakovs. The group also includes vocalists Ieva Akurātere (who would later become one of the most recognizable voices of the Latvian Singing Revolution), Juris Sējāns (bass, vocals), Leons Sējāns (lead guitar), Raimonds Bartaševics (vocals), as well as opera singer and current Latvian Minister of Culture Nauris Puntulis on vocals.

Though the group has remained active in the decades since, their last proper album was released in 1991. Also, when their original albums were released on three best of CDs, to get everything to fit on one CD, a number of the songs on the original album were dropped. To collect some of these missing songs, as well as to properly release some songs recorded after 1991, Pērkons released the collection entitled 7os no rīta in 2018. The set gathers songs both old and new, covering their many decades of activity.

One of the more curious omissions from the CD that covered their earliest years was the song ‘Kukurūza’, which, as the title might indicate, is a song about corn. Strange because this song remains one of their most popular. The song, with lyrics by Klāvs Elsbergs, is perhaps a oblique parody of Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev’s decree that more corn should be grown in the Soviet Union (after a visit to the United States). Or perhaps it is a warped romanticized view of live on the collective farm or kolhozs. Either way, it is a Pērkons trademark – a song that is both catchy and, at the same time, a slight dig at the Soviet regime of the time.

Also likely appearing on CD for the first time is their early 1990s song ‘Kāzas’, a beautiful and sad song about the end of a relationship, with its repeated refrain ‘tās nav mūsu kāzas’ (that is not our wedding), and it shows a more lyrical and emotional facet of the group. Another welcome inclusion is the brief but tender ‘Vakars klāt’, a delicate lullaby that often closed out the group’s concerts.

Still, some of these hidden gems might have been left hidden, for example ‘Vēršu (horoskopa) dziesma”, a bizarrely distorted song that includes melodies from Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen while Kulakovs raps somewhat incomprehensibly. It is unclear if the song is meant to be satire or parody, perhaps more of an experiment that did not quite work out.

Unfortunately, the CD package doesn’t include any information about the songs. It would have been interesting to know when they were recorded, or even perhaps a few thoughts about the songs (many of Pērkons’ songs had a deeper meaning that may not be immediately clear to listeners). It also not a complete collection of unreleased tracks – there are still songs from the original albums yet to be released on CD – songs such as ‘Sastrēgumstunda’ and ‘Viss rudens’ are unfortunately omitted.

7os no rīta collects a number of gems from the many decades of Pērkons’ recording history. From their earlier rough, almost punk songs, to their later polished and intricately arranged songs, from the deeply serious to the absurd, if not outright silly, Pērkons is a band that have long been ingrained in the fabric of Latvian rock music. Though one does wish that they would record a proper album of new material, this collection is a welcome gathering of many of their otherwise unreleased songs, and a testament to the talent of the band as well as leader Juris Kulakovs.

For further information, please visit the Pērkons Facebook page.

7os no rīta

Pērkons

2018

Track listing

  1. Fly (Lidojums)
  2. 18. Novembris
  3. Mūžs
  4. Zvaigznīte
  5. Es gaidu brīnumu
  6. Tramvajs
  7. Tu
  8. Tutu
  9. Kā pasakā
  10. Vēršu (horoskopa) dziesma
  11. 7os no rīta
  12. Kukurūza
  13. Kāzas
  14. Taureņi ir brīvi
  15. Meitene (lili)
  16. Līgavai
  17. C. M. Bellam epistule nr. 82 (Ulla)
  18. Vakars klāt

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.

Choir Anima’s album of Livonian songs compelling, engaging

The Livonian language is one of the world’s most endangered languages, and it is spoken by less than fifty people worldwide. Though the Livonian culture has a thousand years of history, over time their numbers have dwindled, however, though their numbers are few, the remaining speakers, as well as many Livonian culture enthusiasts, have kept the language alive through music and songs.

Livonians, a Finno-Ugric people, lived mainly along the shores of the Baltic Sea in Latvia, in the Kurzeme region as well as the Vidzeme area. This served as the inspiration for Laura Leontjeva, conductor of the mixed choir Anima (who are based out of Saulkrasti, a town on the shores of the Gulf of Riga and an area where the Livonians lived), to record an album of choir works in the Livonian language. The album, entitled Jūrd. Saknes. Roots., was released in 2018.

Kokle virtuoso and composer Laima Jansone provides a driving arrangement of the Kurzeme Livonian folk song ‘Tšītšorlinkizt’ (or Chichor-birds), which also features a powerful vocal performance by Julgī Stalte, a singer of Livonian descent and a member of the traditional folk ensemble Skandinieki. The song, which compares the bounty of the local waters (elsewhere the flounder are weak), as well as the hard working girls of the village (elsewhere the girls are lazy), has a hypnotic quality to it, as the soaring vocal performances are balanced by the mantra-like chanting of the word ‘Tšītšorlinkizt’

The centerpiece of the collection is composer Uģis Prauliņš’ suite of Livonian folksongs entitled ‘Līvu sasaukšanās’ (or Livonians calling to each other), a multi-faceted collection that includes Livonian texts gathered from many different areas. The rousing ‘Kašķē, kangē’, a song about preparing for a wedding, begins this journey, which then leads to the more mystical ‘Urū! Rīrī’, a song about milking a cow. Prauliņš himself provides the synthesizer accompaniment, which is used with great effect in the celebratory ‘Līgo!’, a song of midsummer and the preternatural elements of that celebration.

The tender and tranquil ‘Lūotum’ (or ‘Hope’), a song with words by Julgī Stalte and music by Edgars Beļickis, closes out the collection, and provides for a serene conclusion, with its words about flowing with the Aģe river.

The CD booklet includes the texts for all the songs (in Livonian, Latvian, and English), as well as extensive notes on Livonian history, culture and language, presented by linguists Uldis Balodis and Valts Ernštreits in both Latvian and English. The booklet also includes notes on the even rarer dialects, such as the Ludza Estonians, or Lutsi, as well as the Leivi, southern Estonians that lived in the territory of Latvia.

Jūrd. Saknes. Roots. reveals that the Livonian language still has vitality and can inspire musicians and performers. Though the songs are in a language that very few will understand, the performances and arrangements are compelling and engaging, and the choir Anima and conductors Laura Leontjeva and Matīss Tučs provide vivid interpretations of these works. The album is not just a valuable document of a nearly extinct language, but also a musical journey that reveals the richness of Livonian heritage.

For further information, please visit the choir Anima website, as well as the Livonian heritage website.

Jūrd. Saknes. Roots.

Koris Anima

Lauska, CD085, 2018

Track listing:

  1. Tšītšorlinkizt – Laima Jansone

Līvu sasaukšanās – Uģis Prauliņš

  • Kaškē, kaņģē
  • Urū! Rirī!
  • Velikine armakene
  • Lelū!
  • Līgo!
  • Käkānikā
  • Aģoug – Uģis Prauliņš
  • Lūotum – Edgars Beļickis

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.