Authentic recreation of bygone era on Rahu the Fool’s debut album

The early 20th century, particularly the 1920s and 30s, was a truly explosive time for music around the world – new styles and genres came to life, and many popular songs were written, songs that are still sung and beloved today. Latvia also experienced this phenomenon, and groups of that era like Brāļi Laivinieki, Alfrēds Vinters, Pauls Sakss, among many others that recorded for the pre-war record local label Bellacord Electro, are still fondly remembered.

Inspired by the music of that time, as well as other genres, the group Rahu the Fool released their debut album in 2019. Over the course of two CDs (one featuring songs in Latvian, the other with songs in English), Rahu the Fool displays a wide variety of influences. On their Facebook page, the group describes itself as “folk music, with sparkles of jazz, hip hop, avantgarde, bluegrass and world music.” The group is made up of Evita Bambāne on double bass, Lauma Bērza on violin and vocals, Benny Goldsmith (Zeltkalis) on saxophone and ukulele, Pēteris Narubins on vocals and guitars, and Jāzeps Podnieks on vocals, flute, washboard, and a number of other instruments. The name ‘Rahu’ is from Hindu mythology, but also means ‘peace’ in Estonian.

The group conjures up an authentic early 20th century atmosphere on songs like ‘Šņāci Minna’ (the Latvian version of the British novelty song ‘Wheezy Anna’), and ‘Bagāts un nabags’. Guest vocalist Marija Broča provides a soulful rendition of ‘Just a Little Bit of Rain’, as well as the spiritual ‘Trouble so Hard’.

There are elements from later decades as well, such as the group’s interpretations of two songs by composer Imants Kalniņš – ‘Četri Balti krekli’ and ‘Viena meita govi slauca’. Also, the group’s version of the blue standard ‘Make me a Pallet on Your Floor’, featuring guest vocalist Madars Apse, is perhaps meant to evoke the vocal stylings and harmonica of Bob Dylan. Even Latvian folk songs appear on the album, such as the almost manic performance of the song ‘Švilpastīte’.

The wide variety of styles and moods on the album can make for a slightly disorientating listen, as the mood can jump from humorous to serious, from rollicking to somber from one song to another. It also is not always clear if something is meant to be funny or not, which perhaps is part of the group’s charm – leave the listeners guessing. Some songs are even slightly disturbing, like ‘Seagull’s Meat’, about boiling and eating a seagull. The group provides an ode to cannabis, ‘Reefer Song’, meant to be playfully silly (much like someone under the influence) but winds up being just silly.

With 29 songs altogether, there are bound to be a few misfires, but these are far overshadowed by moments of true beauty, like the sentimental Estonian instrumental dance of ‘Sāremā’ or the wistful and heartbreaking sea shanty ‘Jūrnieku dziesma’, about a sailor swearing his love before going to sea. Also, worth noting is the clarity in production on the recordings, with all the various instruments clearly heard and well balanced in the mix – veteran producer Kaspars Bārbals oversaw the recordings.

The CD booklet has many classic and vintage photos, as well as modern photos in a vintage style (in an interview with the group, they revealed they had found a photographer – Andris Uškāns – who had an antique camera that still worked – and he took the new photographs of the band). There are also brief notes from the band, though, curiously, the authors of the songs or sources are not provided. It would have been interesting to read a bit more about the songs chosen for this collection, or to know if a song is a cover or an original.

Over the course of two CDs, Rahu the Fool take the listener on a journey through time, and a journey that makes stops both in Latvia and the United States. Throwing themselves fully into the role of a 1930s ensemble, even dressing the part, the group produced an authentic recreation of a bygone era, but still with a few modern touches and flourishes. Though there are certainly retro elements and nostalgia, the group’s performances are full of vitality and vigor, giving these songs – some a century or older – a new life with their enthusiastic performances.

For further information, please visit the Rahu the Fool Facebook page

Rahu the Fool

Lauska, 2019

Track listing:

CD Rahu

  1. Bagāts un nabags
  2. Koketka
  3. Šnāci Minna – video
  4. Sāremā
  5. Jūrnieku dziesma
  6. Mīļākā
  7. Švilpastīte
  8. Taiga
  9. Četri balti krekli
  10. Viena meita govi slauca – video
  11. Stepe
  12. Tumšā naktī
  13. Igauņu subata
  14. Saimniekdēli

CD The Fool

  1. Minglewood Brothers
  2. Move That Thing – video
  3. Make Me A Pallet on Your Floor
  4. I Don`t Want to Set The World On Fire
  5. Rag, Mama, Rag – video
  6. I Can`t Give You Anything but Love
  7. Haul On The Bowline
  8. Three Little Puns and Rood
  9. Reefer Song – video
  10. Just A Little Bit Of Rain
  11. Minnie The Moocher
  12. Seagull`s Meat
  13. Waiting for A Train
  14. Trouble So Hard
  15. Oh, Long River

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 Radio Choir creates engaging musical journey with works by Latvian composers

The Latvian Radio Choir, long known not just for their versatility, but also their enthusiasm for modern and challenging works, have, for decades now, brought the names and music of Latvian choir music composers to audiences over the world. Through the tireless efforts of conductors Sigvards Kļava and Kaspars Putniņš, names such as Maija Einfelde, Mārtiņš Viļums, Andrejs Selickis, among many others, have been heard by audiences that would likely not have heard them otherwise.

The choir also diligently release recordings of the works of Latvian composers, such as The Fruit of Silence, Mārtiņš Brauns’ Daugava, Daba un dvēsele, among many others. On their 2019 CD Evening Impression (or Vakara impresija), the choir presents more introspective, ethereal choir works by Latvian composers, all composed in the past decade.

Sacred elements imbue many of the works on this collection. Using text from the Gospel of John, composer Juris Karlsons’ gently flowing ‘Gaisma’ (or ‘Light’) creates a calm, reassuring atmosphere with its repeated phrase ‘Es esmu gaisma’ (I am the Light). Composer Andrejs Selickis finds inspiration in the 51st Psalm for his ‘Radi manī, ak Dievs’ (Create in Me), and intertwines Gregorian and Byzantine elements to create a deeply spiritual work. Ēriks Ešenvalds sets the writings of the Eastern Orthodox monk Silouan the Athonite to music in the contemplative ‘I Write’. The work, envisioned as an episode from the monk’s life, is a deeply reverent prayer, lifted to soaring heights by the voices of the choir.

Ešenvalds also provides the brief and almost fragile ‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’. Using text by Irish poet William Butler Yeats, the work, a confession of love, is vividly interpreted by Ešenvalds and his striking harmonies.

Pēteris Vasks interprets the poetry of Latvian poet Imants Ziedonis in ‘Mīlas dziesmas’ (Songs of Love), a cycle of five miniatures. From the gently undulating ‘Tāds gaišums’, to the very reserved and solemn ‘Un pēkšņi tāds klusums’ and the reflective, delicate ‘Ne lapa nekustas’, Vasks’ brings forth the spiritual and emotional in the poetry. The cycle was composed shortly after Ziedonis’ death in 2013, and the choir ensures that this is a highly personal, performance of this work.

Latvian poetry also provides inspiration for Maija Einfelde’s ‘Vakara impresija’, based on a poem by Rainis. Einfelde’s music often has harsh, even emotionally raw harmonies, and Rainis’ text about approaching dusk becomes unsettling, even ominous. Arturs Maskats’ lyrical, expressive ‘Liepziedā’, based on poetry by Ojārs Vācietis, gives the choir many opportunities to display their skill in this nuanced, colorful composition.

Jēkabs Nīmanis has composed much for theater, and this is evident in his ‘Krēslas stundas’, a kind of ghost story set to music based on a text by Jānis Vainovskis. Partially spoken, the choir acts as a kind of narrator for the otherworldly text about an unexpected encounter with a female spirit.

Slightly out of place on this particular collection is Mārtiņš Viļums’ ‘Bij’ man viena balta pupa’, if only because the work, based on a Latvian folksong, is sung in a Latvian folk style (that is, occasionally loudly and shrilly). Still, the work, with its extensive mythological elements (according to the liner notes, “The bean is an ancient Indo-European mythological symbol – the path to heaven”) and mystical atmosphere, results in a dramatic and engrossing performance.

Calm and meditative, the Latvian Radio Choir and conductors Sigvards Kļava and Kaspars Putniņš create an engaging and ruminative musical journey. Combining sacred and secular elements, as well as both melodic and discordant sounds, Evening Impression further displays the many facets of the sound of the choir, and reaffirms their position as the leading interpreters of modern Latvian choir music.

For further information, please visit the Latvian Radio Choir website.

Evening Impression

Latvian Radio Choir

LMIC/SKANI 075, 2019

Track listing:

1. Juris Karlsons – Gaisma

Pēteris Vasks – Mīlas dziesmas

2. Tāds gaišums

3. Un pēkšņi tāds klusums

4. Kur biju?

5. Tad apstājas laiks

6. Ne lapa nekustas

7. Jēkabs Nīmanis – Krēslas stundas

8. Ēriks Ešenvalds – He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

9. Ēriks Ešenvalds – I Write

10. Mārtiņš Viļums – Bij’ man viena balta pupa

11. Maija Einfelde – Vakara impresija

12. Andrejs Selickis – Radi manī, ak Dievs

13. Arturs Maskats – Liepziedā

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.

Recent CD honors musical legacy of Latvian violinist Valdis Zariņš

Distinguished Latvian violinist Valdis Zariņš, who passed away in 2018, left behind a towering body of work. Over many decades of performance, Zariņš established himself as a peerless violinist, both as a soloist as well as his orchestral performances, most notably with the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, where he performed for more than two decades.

While performing with the LNSO, Zariņš was often under the baton of renowned conductor Vassily Sinaisky, and the tandem gave hundreds of memorable concerts and made many significant recordings.

To honor Zariņš’ musical legacy, the Latvian national record label Skani released a two CD set of recordings featuring Zariņš with the LNSO conducted by Sinaisky in 2019. Simply entitled Valdis Zariņš, the collection contains four violin concertos, two by Latvian composers – Gundaris Pone (who is also the conductor for his concerto) and Romualds Kalsons, and two by international composers – Jean Sibelius and Béla Bartók.

Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’ violin concerto, composed in 1904/05 and recorded by Zariņš and Sinaisky in 1988, is a personal and emotional work. Beginning in the opening of the first movement, Zariņš performs in an expressive, intimate manner, particularly in the extensive solo section in the middle of the movement, where Zariņš expresses varied moods in a captivating way. The slower, almost sentimental second movement is elevated by Zariņš’ mellifluous performance, while the dramatic, almost galloping third movement gives Zariņš the opportunity to display his technical skill, all the while supported by the precise performance by the LNSO.

Hungarian composer Béla Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2, composed in 1937/38, though full of Bartók’s Hungarian folk music influences, perhaps also reflects the current state of Europe at the time, with war all but inevitable. This may be represented with dramatic moments like the unexpected blast of sound in the first movement, almost like an alarm, and Valdis Zariņš and the LNSO fill these moments with a kind of terror and foreboding. The tranquil second movement offers a respite from the often tense first movement, though there are moments where the uneasiness returns. The third movement is more playful, and the interplay between the soloist and the orchestra is vividly displayed by Zariņš and the LNSO.

The Violin Concerto by exiled Latvian composer Gundaris Pone, composed in 1959, was performed by Zariņš (with the composer himself wielding the baton) and recorded in 1990. The work opens dramatically, with loud bursts of sound suddenly appearing, then dissipating as an eerie quiet takes over, punctuated by what seems like a searching melody performed by Zariņš. Pone, considered as the only truly avantgarde Latvian composer (avantgarde was frowned upon in Soviet occupied Latvia, so only an exiled Latvian could freely compose in this style), displays this in the third movement, which opens with what sounds like a crack of a whip, indicating the driving tempo of the music that follows. The orchestra is a blur of motion, all the way to the conclusion, with Zariņš’ providing a virtuoso performance.

There is an interesting note in the CD booklet about Romualds Kalsons’ Violin Concerto – that, in this performance, Zariņš is truly a soloist – there are no other violins in the orchestra. Zariņš’ performance then takes on an additional dimension in this work that fuses many different styles and moods, like in the second movement, which is at times tense, at other times exhibits a kind of dark humor. Moments of contemplation imbue the third movement, while the percussive fourth movement includes an almost hypnotic performance by Zariņš, and the work concludes suddenly, as if it were unexpectedly interrupted.

The CD booklet is full of fascinating anecdotes about the performer, as well as the compositions. For example, Zariņš would regularly carry ten E strings with him, as he would regularly break this string during performances, and Zariņš played a violin made by Latvian luthier Mārtiņš Zemītis (which is also the violin used on the Bartók concerto recording).

Though all four violin concertos are 20th century compositions, there is still significant variety in these performances, and violinist Valdis Zariņš displays his skills throughout these works, adapting and changing to effectively present each work. Along with the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Vassily Sinaisky, these four performances reveal the adaptability and talent of the violinist. Of course, it is not possible to summarize all the achievements of Zariņš over just two CDs (and one is keen to hear solo performances of his as well), but the Skani release of Valdis Zariņš proves an effective reminder of what a singular violinist Zariņš was and his immense contribution to Latvian academic music.

For further information, please visit the Skani website

Valdis Zariņš

LMIC/SKANI 074, 2019

Track listing:

CD 1

JEAN SIBELIUS Violin Concerto in D minor, op. 47

1. Allegro moderato

2. Adagio di molto

3. Allegro, ma non tanto

BÉLA BARTÓK Violin Concerto No. 2, Sz 112

4. Allegro non troppo

5. Andante tranquillo

6. Allegro molto

CD 2

GUNDARIS PONE Violin Concerto

1. Allegro non troppo sempre di gran maniera

2. Adagio elegiaco un poco rubato

3. Allegro molto vivace


4. Allegro ma non troppo

5. Adagio elegiaco un poco rubato

6. Andante con moto

7. Allegro non troppo

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.