Few Latvian composers have achieved a similar level of success and renown as Imants Kalniņš. Both his popular songs and academic works are beloved by many Latvians, and his contribution to Latvian culture is immeasurable.
His academic work, particularly for symphony orchestra, is a cornerstone of the Latvian academic music repertoire, and, recognizing this, the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Atvars Lakstīgala and Māris Sirmais) endeavored to record and release all of Kalniņš’ orchestral works. Released in 2020, the five CD set, entitled Imants Kalniņš: Complete Symphonies & Concertos, gathers all seven of Kalniņš’ symphonies, three concertos, and two additional symphonic works.
A few of the works on this collection were previously released on 2017’s Imants Kalniņš and on 2015’s Sound of Freedom, but this is the first time several of the works (particularly the early symphonies and concertos) are released on CD.
Kalniņš’ best known and most popular symphonic work remains his Symphony No. 4, composed in 1973, nicknamed the ‘Rock’ symphony for its use of rock instruments like bass guitar, as well as its driving percussion. The version on this set is with the instrumental fourth movement (as opposed to the vocal movement used in other releases of this symphony). The appearance of a work in this style (especially considering that it was the early 1970s, still deep within the Soviet occupation of Latvia), achieved a notable resonance in society, and, even today, the work, with its energy and melodic elements, still sounds fresh and vital.
Kalniņš’ first three symphonies, less well known and composed in more traditional, academic styles, still reveal many of the embryonic elements that would make Kalniņš so beloved over the coming decades. The first symphony, composed in 1964, is often weighty and harsh, possibly influenced by early 20th century Russian composers like Shostakovich and Prokofiev. Symphony No. 2 (1965) could be considered more theatrical, the orchestra expressing a kind of dramatic action, but with Kalniņš’ talent for melody now becoming readily apparent (particularly the gentle melody of the second movement). The brief and dance-like Symphony No. 3, with its airy, almost dainty sound, could almost be ballet music, but still has some jarring tonal shifts (the tense, percussive second movement becomes a tragic funeral march in the third movement).
Themes of mysticism and magic often can be found in Kalniņš’ popular songs, and his Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra (2012) also has a mystical atmosphere, with the composer using the sound of the oboe to conjure a vision of an enchanted place of mythical beings. This recording was conducted by noted choir conductor Māris Sirmais, which is perhaps why the sound of the oboe seems to simulate a voice or a song.
Kalniņš added a choir to his Symphony No. 6 (2001), and, on this recording, it is the State Choir Latvija, also conducted by Sirmais. Here Kalniņš is again in storytelling form, with evocative passages seemingly illustrating what might be a victory celebration. The choir appears in the tender, gentle second movement, singing love poetry by Rabindranath Tagore (the text is, unfortunately, not included in the liner notes), while in the fourth movement, the work takes a more somber, sacred turn. This symphony is one of Kalniņš’ most meditative works, presenting a kind of spiritual journey.
Imants Kalniņš is a towering figure in Latvian music, one that has achieved major success in both popular and academic genres, and this collection of his symphonic works serves as a fitting tribute to such an integral figure in Latvian music culture. The Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, conducted by both Atvars Lakstīgala and Māris Sirmais, reveal the vitality and the many facets of Kalniņš music, and Imants Kalniņš: Complete Symphonies & Concertos serves as an emphatic testament to Kalniņš’ indelible contribution not just to music, but to Latvia as well.
For further information, please visit the Skani website
Liepāja Symphony Orchestra
Imants Kalniņš: Complete Symphonies & Concertos
LMIC/SKANI 087, 2020
Soundtrack to the Film Pūt, vējiņi: Finale
Symphony No. 4
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra
Symphony No. 5
Concerto for Orchestra
Symphonies No. 6 and 3
Symphonies No. 1 and 2
Symphony No. 7
Concerto for Oboe