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.

Latvian-Azerbaijani singer’s collection of lullabies meditative, soothing

LEILALI, or Leila Alijeva, is a singer, songwriter and arranger of both Latvian and Azerbaijani descent. LEILALI performs in meditative and calming style, fusing both Latvian and world elements into her songs. Her first album, Samtainā tumsa (or ‘Glowing Dreams’) was released in 2018, and is a collection of lullabies inspired by the music of many different world cultures.

As the title and song list would indicate (all the songs have either ‘dream’ or ‘lullaby’ in their titles), this will be a very placid and reserved collection of songs, all of which are quiet, even fragile – a kind of meditation or calm reflection. The artist describes the songs as being ‘full of unconditional love, care and acceptance to calm and support the soul’. On the album, Alijeva is joined by storyteller Inin Nini, guitarist and clarinetist Viesturs Melders, and Laura Melne performing additional instruments.

The artist also indicates the inspiration for each of the works, such as ‘Invocation of Dreams’, which was inspired by South American ceremonies and traditions. The minimalist performance, with just a few, sparse notes from the guitar and a repeated mantra of ‘nei nei nei’ brings the listener to a trance like state, the first step in the journey to the dream world.

‘God’s Lullaby’ begins with night sounds, which then leads into an a cappella chant, inspired by the indigenous South American tribe the Yaminawá, which then leads into a plaintive melody combined with a whispered Latvian child’s lullaby, which then gradually dissipates at the end of the song.

‘Lullaby from the Soul of the East’ begins a four song sequence that is inspired by lullabies from the four corners of the Earth, beginning with a song inspired by ancient Persian wisdom. The CD booklet contains little information about what LEILALI is actually singing about, which certainly adds to the mysteriousness of the performances, but one does occasionally wish that she added a bit more information about the inspiration for the songs, if not a translation of the words.

‘Lullaby from the Soul of the West’ then follows, inspired by a Native American song, and is a shamanistic song backed by rhythmic, pulsating drumming. ‘Lullaby from the Soul of the South’ has Balkan elements, combined with a whispered Latvian text, is accented with a mournful clarinet melody.

Latvian elements can be heard in the concluding song, ‘Lullaby from the Soul of the North’. With folk song quotations, along with a slow tolling of a gentle bell, the song then reaches a crescendo (which, for this album, is a very reserved crescendo), with the repeated refrain of ‘visapkārti-i gaisma ausa’ (the light dawned all around), and then floats off into a dreamy state at its conclusion.

LEILALI’s Samtainā tumsa is a soothing and immersive listen, at once deeply spiritual and pensive. Even though it is a quiet and reserved, the explorations of lullabies with world elements provides for a peaceful and relaxing journey.

For further information, please visit the LEILALI Facebook site.

Samtainā tumsa


Lauska 2018

  1. Invocation of Dreams
  2. Dream Ceremony
  3. Lullaby from the Heart
  4. God`s Lullaby
  5. Mother Earth`s Lullaby
  6. Lullaby from the Soul of the East
  7. Lullaby from the Soul of the West
  8. Lullaby from the Soul of the South
  9. Lullaby from the Soul of the North

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.

Pianist Toms Ostrovskis vividly presents Alfrēds Kalniņš’ works on new album

Latvian composer Alfrēds Kalniņš (1879–1951), was a prolific composer and active musician, composing more than 900 works in his lifetime. His best known work is the opera Baņuta (the first opera to have a libretto in Latvian), and for his work in this field he is considered to be the founder of Latvian national opera.

Kalniņš also composed extensively for solo piano. Many of his piano works are brief miniatures, but in their brevity they display his many influences and world experiences. Kalniņš travelled extensively, studying in St. Petersburg, worked in Estonia, and also spent six years in New York as a choir conductor. Recognizing the riches in Kalniņš’ piano compositions, pianist Toms Ostrovskis recorded an album of them, entitled Moments Musicaux (Musical Moments) which was released in 2018 by the Latvian national record label Skani.

The album begins with a collection of works simply entitled ‘Septiņi skaņdarbi’ (or Seven Pieces), composed between 1913 and 1915. From the somber, yet tender ‘Pie drauga kapa’ (At a Friend’s Grave – dedicated to composer Emīls Dārziņš), to the rousing and energetic ‘Albuma lapiņa’ (Album Leaf) and the triumphant and exuberant fourth Musical Moment, dedicated to poet Rainis, Ostrovskis reveals the many nuances and details within Kalniņš’ works.

Alfrēds Kalniņš’ ‘Septiņas poēmas’ (Seven Poems), composed between 1917 and 1918, musically present the composer’s state of mind during these years of war, particularly the stormy second Poem, which Ostrovskis presents with full dramatic turmoil. However, this tempest is balanced by the melodic third Poem, perhaps indicating a peaceful lull during those turbulent times. The reflective and appropriately poetic seventh Poem brings this cycle to a gentle close, almost like a lullaby.

Kalniņš remained in Latvia after the end of World War II, and continued to compose, such as the ‘Četri kapričeto’ (Four Capriccietti), written between 1946 and 1949. These works, though gathered together, are all quite distinctive and do not easily fit together in a programmatic sense. From the dance like ‘Vivo’ and the changing moods of ‘Piacevole’ and the slightly tense ‘Allegro moderato’, Ostrovskis provides engaging interpretations of these diverse compositions.

The album also contains some of Kalniņš’ compositions for children in a collection entitled ‘Trīs gabaliņi albumam “Jaunībai”’ (Three Small Pieces for the Album “For Youth”). The pastoral and rapid ‘Pie strauta’ (By a Brook) and the playful ‘Dziesmiņa’ (Little Song) are then followed by ‘Vecais koklētājs’ (The Old Kokle Player) where Ostrovskis imitates the sound of a Latvian kokle on the piano, and features brief musical quotes from Latvian folk songs.

Emīls Dārziņš once remarked that Alfrēds Kalniņš’ ‘developed a sincere wish to … find his own, unique but very Latvian musical expression’ and this is reflected throughout the twenty-one piano compositions included on Moments Musicaux. Though most are under three minutes in length, they still contain a broad world of emotions painted with a varied palette of colors. Pianist Toms Ostrovskis vividly presents these musical moments, crafting an immersive musical performance that present the many facets of Kalniņš’ compositional style. Ostrovskis, who is a member of the piano department at the Latvian Academy of Music, also wrote all of the liner notes for the CD booklet, and these reveal Ostrovskis’ deep personal connection with and understanding of Kalniņš’ piano music. Kalniņš did achieve his desire to find his own Latvian musical expression, and this record confirms Alfrēds Kalniņš’ significant contribution to Latvian piano music.

For further information, please visit the Skani website.

Alfrēds Kalniņš – Moments Musicaux

Toms Ostrovskis, Piano

Skani 069

Track listing

Septiņi skaņdarbi / Seven Pieces

1. Pie drauga kapa – Emīla Dārziņa piemiņai – Andantino, mesto

2. Albuma lapiņa – Augustam Dombrovska kungam – Con brio, jubiloso

3. Rudeņa pievakarē – Lugubre

4. Muzikāls moments – Allegretto

5. Muzikāls moments – Moderato, semplice

6. Muzikāls moments – Allegro moderato

7. Muzikāls moments – Rainim uz 30.VIII. 1915

Septiņas poēmas / Seven Poems

8. Allegretto

9. Agitato ed appassionato

10. Andantino

11. In modo di valse lente

12. Tranquillo

13. Moderato

14. Leggiadro

Četri kapričeto / Four Capriccietti

15. Vivo

16. Piacevole

17. Allegretto

18. Allegro moderato, ma risoluto

Trīs gabaliņi albumam “Jaunībai” / Three Small Pieces for the Album “For the Youth”

19. Dziesmiņa

20. Pie strauta

21. Vecais koklētājs

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.