Pianist Plešanovs’ debut solo album features ‘Mushroom Rhapsody’ and other eclectic piano works

In addition to spotlighting Latvian composers and their compositions, the Latvian national record label Skani also endeavors to shine a light on the many talented musicians in Latvia. Pianist Rihards Plešanovs is such a musician, and his debut solo piano album Les Flexibles, containing performances of 20th and 21st century works by both Latvian and international composers, was released in 2023.

The works included on this collection are an eclectic mix, and are also interspersed with readings of poetry, and Plešanovs’ performances are infused with both his technical and dramatic interpretation skills.

The album opens with Plešanovs’ lively performance of Imants Zemzaris’ ‘Faktūras’ (Textures). A three movement work, each brief movement compresses much into its short running time – the first is a blur of motion, the second a kind of warped, yet playful dance, while the dreamy third movement concludes the work on an uncertain, even eerie note. Plešanovs dexterously brings out the many details and elements that have been woven into this work by Zemzaris.

The work that gives the album its title – ‘Les Flexibles’ – is by Latvian composer Linda Leimane. Leimane’s work, which, as per the composer, “came from improvising on an out-of-tune piano in a bathhouse”, is an opus with dynamic intensity – it leaps between an almost frantic, hyperactive mood to a more foreboding, apprehensive atmosphere. Plešanovs capably brings these varied moods, as well as the technical demands of the piece, together to make for a compelling performance.

Composer Pēteris Vasks’ cycle ‘Gadalaiki’ (Seasons) for piano is perhaps one of the best known and beloved piano works in the Latvian repertoire, particularly the somber and beautiful ‘Baltā ainava’ (White Landscape). At times tender and melancholy, others uneasy, yet filled with longing, Plešanovs provides a beautiful and moving performance of this wintry opus.

The poetic and spoken word interludes are perhaps a strange choice, but they do offer a brief respite between the often very heavily dramatic opuses. The interludes are in Latvian, Latgallian, Russian, English and French. The poetic introduction ‘Mushroom Rhapsody’ switches multiple times between languages, which leaves the listener slightly disconcerted, as it is a poem about going mushrooming, but goes on spiritual and existential tangents. The poem then leads into one of Plešanovs’ own compositions, also entitled ‘Mushroom Rhapsody’, for prepared piano. Plešanovs’ composition – inspired by John Cage (who, as per the CD booklet, “had been an active mushroom hunter and researcher”) – is very abstract, occasionally seeming more like a collection of sounds than a musical work, but, as the work progresses, it builds in intensity and turns into a rhythmic, almost jazzy work.

The album also contains performances of works by György Ligeti, Fazil Say, Olivier Messiaen, and Edgars Raginskis.

Pianist Rihards Plešanovs convincingly shows himself as a preeminent Latvian pianist, and the Les Flexibles collection, with its panorama of 20th and 21st century piano works displays the many facets of his talents. From moments of dramatic tension to somber melancholy, to abstract visions created using the prepared piano, Plešanovs has made an impressive debut album.

For further information, please visit the Skani website.

Les Flexibles

Rihards Plešanovs, Piano

LMIC/SKANi 147, 2023

Track listing:

Imants ZEMZARIS – Faktūras

1. Allegro 1:52

2. Andantino 3:46

3. Moderato 1:52

4. György LIGETI – Fanfares étude

5. Liāna LANGA – Skumju brālis – spoken word

6. Fazil SAY – Black Earth

7. Linda LEIMANE –  Les flexibles

8. Anna RANCĀNE –  Bārna sapyns – spoken word

9. Olivier MESSIAEN – Le baiser de l’Enfant-Jésus from the cycle Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus

10. György LIGETI – L’escalier du diable étude

11. Sergej TIMOFEJEV – Утро в стране интровертов – spoken word

12. Pēteris VASKS – Baltā ainava

13. Edgars RAGINSKIS – Maza elektroniskā mūzika

14. Inga ŽOLUDE Mushroom Rhapsody – spoken word

15. Rihards PLEŠANOVS – Sēņu rapsodija for prepared audio recording and piano

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.

Linda Leine performs Georgs Pelēcis’ haunting Gadalaiki cycle

Quietly and gradually, composer Georgs Pelēcis has become one of the best known and beloved composers from Latvia. His music has been listened to millions of times on streaming services, entrancing listeners all over the world with its seeming simplicity, but with rich melodies and emotional depth. With early music being a major influence, his works often echo themes and musical ideas from the Baroque and Renaissance eras.

Among his works for piano, a notable entry is the Gadalaiki (Seasons) cycle, a six-work cycle (the four seasons plus two additional works relating to the New Year), composed over the course of more than forty years, and the entire cycle comes to be about one hundred minutes of music. Latvian pianist Linda Leine’s recording of all the entries in the Gadalaiki cycle was released in 2022.

Each of the works in the cycle is a larger form work (each work is between fifteen to twenty-five minutes in length), which allows for Pelēcis to fully develop and expand the melodic themes in each piece, providing for an immersive listening experience for the listener.

The cycle begins with ‘Jaungada mūzika’ (New Year’s Music), which begins gently, almost deliberately, sounding much like a formal dance, but then gradually starts gaining in energy and tempo. The work, the first to be composed in the cycle (in 1977), perhaps most exhibits his Renaissance and Baroque influences (conjuring a New Year’s celebration from that era), and the work gently flows from celebratory sounds to more contemplative melodies, and pianist Leine’s performance brings forth the needed delicateness and precision.

A sense of trepidation fills the opening minutes of ‘Pavasara mūzika’ (Spring Music), perhaps to evoke a wintry landscape prior to the arrival of spring. Then the solemn and melancholic mood, over time, begins to include more positive elements, while still retaining a somber atmosphere, and Leine deftly reveals the many aspects of this work in her layered performance.

The longest work in the cycle is the twenty-five minute ‘Vasaras mūzika’ (Summer Music), and throughout its expansive runtime, it creates a vivid panorama of summer, replete with both blissful warm days as well as summer storms. Adeptly moving between the moments of tension and delicate reflection, Leine brings out the many vivid colors in the work.

The somber ‘Rudens mūzika’ (Autumn music) then leads into the pensive, placid ‘Ziemas mūzika’, which builds to a resounding, joyful crescendo. The cycle then concludes with a return to the New Year – ‘Jaunais gads atkal klāt’, written more than forty years after the initial work in this cycle. Retaining the celebratory atmosphere of the earlier work, Pelēcis continues to bridge the centuries in his music, and Leine, with both precision and emotion, completes this musical journey through the year.

Some listeners may find the music to be a bit too calm, though there are occasional moments of fire and energy, the bulk of the music is in a meditative, reflective style. Certain themes may be repeated possibly a few too many times, so there is the occasional sense that Pelēcis could potentially have trimmed some of the works. However, perhaps that is part of the charm of Pelēcis’ music, that these repeated, deceptively simple themes give his works a dream-like quality, like a leisurely, lengthy walk during each of the seasons.

Beautiful, haunting, affecting are all words that could be used to describe the music of Georgs Pelēcis, and it is perhaps no surprise that his music has found many sympathetic ears and has moved listeners all over the world. Full of not just melodic beauty, but also spiritual positivity, Pelēcis’ music has a singular richness and resplendence. Pianist Linda Leine’s skills with melody, deep appreciation of the music and attention to detail makes Gadalaiki a rewarding musical journey.

For further information, please visit Linda Leine’s website  and Georgs Pelēcis page at the Latvian Music Information Center.

Georgs Pelēcis – Gadalaiki

Linda Leine, Piano

LMIC/SKANi 137, 2022

Track listing:

1. Jaungada mūzika

2. Pavasara mūzika

3. Vasaras mūzika

4. Rudens mūzika

5. Ziemas mūzika

6. Jaunais gads atkal 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.

Ethnographic ensemble Vabaļis records local wedding songs in Latgalian

Latvian ethnographic ensemble Vabaļis, from the Vabole parish in southeastern Latvia (in the Latgale region), for more than fifteen years has been recording and popularizing the songs and music from the area. The group has recorded four albums, the most recent of which, Aj, moseņa… was released at the end of 2022, and reveals the richness of the local wedding tradition songs in the collection of eleven songs, sung in the Latgalian language.

The included songs are not just wedding songs, but related activities as well. A Latvian wedding tradition is the apdziedāšanās – songs in a playful, teasing style, often sung about the bride and groom and their respective families. There is a rich history of these kinds of songs in the Vabole region and that was one of the inspirations for recording this album, according to folklore researcher Iveta Tāle, who provided detailed notes on the album and process in the CD booklet. The apdziedāšanās style is presented in the song simply entitled ‘Apdziedāšanās’, where, for nearly eight minutes, all the women singers sing verses to playfully tease the men (who then also have the chance to respond in a similarly humorous way).

The members of Vabaļis are older women, and perform the songs in an authentic manner, and most of the recordings are either a cappella or accompanied by accordion. As these singers have been singing and performing for decades, the performances are genuine and evoke the atmosphere of a traditional Latgalian wedding.

The essay by folklore researcher Iveta Tāle included in the CD booklet includes several fascinating details about the creation of the album. For it to be even more authentic, the ensemble’s director, Artūrs Uškāns (also the leader of the folklore group Laimas Muzykanti) searched through folklore archives to find songs from the Vabole region, which helped rejuvenate a number of these melodies. Still, the CD booklet does not include song specific notes or lyrics, which may make deciphering the songs difficult for those without an excellent command of Latgalian.

With their enthusiasm and energy, Vabaļis have once again revealed rarely heard wedding tradition songs that might otherwise have been forgotten. The group’s dedication to shine light on lesser-known songs from the Latgale region has been one of the goals of the ensemble (for example, Vabaļis’ previous album – Labi dzeivōt kolchozā! – focused on songs sung on Soviet era kolkhoz or communal farms in Latgale). Partly traditional wedding celebration songs, partly a historical document, Aj, mōseņa… is a valuable addition to the Latgalian cultural heritage.

For further information, please watch this YouTube video (in Latvian and Latgalian) about the creation of the album, as well as this article from LSM (in Latvian) regarding the album.

Aj, mōseņa…


Lauska CD101, 2022

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.