Skandinieki CD features wedding songs from the Sēlija region

The traditional Latvian folk ensemble Skandinieki has a long and rich history. Founded in 1976, for more than forty years the group has been playing and singing not just Latvian folk songs, but also Liv folk songs – the Stalts family, the core of Skandinieki for its entire existence, are of Liv descent. Today, Skandinieki is led by Julgī Stalte.

Their most recent recording is of wedding songs from the Selonia (Sēlija) region of Latvia (today, the eastern section of the Zemgale administrative district, around the city of Jēkabpils). Though the Selonian language may have died out, the songs have not, and, recognizing the cultural wealth from that area, Skandinieki released the album Kāzas sēļu zemēs in 2018. The songs on the album are arranged somewhat chronologically – from songs about the couples meeting, then the wedding itself, and then concluding with songs about the wedding night.

A lot of work was put into reproducing the Selonian dialect, and the group enlisted the help of linguist Maija Poiša to make the recordings as authentic as possible. There are some comments from Poiša in the CD booklet about this challenge. Reproducing Selonian was particularly difficult, as this comparatively rarely spoken dialect had, depending on which town you were in, different pronunciations for different words.

There is a touch of the mystical in the song ‘Àiz upeites’, a young girl’s song about her journey across a river – a symbolic travel that leaves her past on one side (her family remains crying on one side) and her future awaits on the other side. Accompanied by the kokle, the women of Skandinieki provide an enchanting performance of this song about a young girl coming of age. The men of Skandinieki follow that up with the lively ‘Ogri müni goíļi dziéd(i)’, a story of sailors travelling to Prussian lands to find brides.

An important part of any Latvian wedding is mičošana, or traditions and rituals performed late in the evening to celebrate the union of the pair. ‘Mi:čuošänas dziésma’ is about this ritual, and includes wisdom from the older, married women, and also mentions the symbolic change of the bride’s headwear – from the unmarried girl’s vainags (crown) to the married woman’s galvas rota (head ornament).

There are more mystical elements in the vigorous ‘Nätìšām(i) as ìegàju’, a prayer to the Latvian goddess Laima to bless the marriage and protect the newly married couple, and the album concludes with the quiet, single-voiced ‘Gulāt ìrbe, gulāt sluóka’, the song of the grandmother as she leads the newlyweds to their bed.

As with many releases from the Lauska record label, the CD booklet is full of information about the songs and the performers. Each song features notes for the melody, as well as a brief explanation of the song in Latvian and English. There are also Selonian folk beliefs, such as the belief from the town of Birzgale, where if the bride and groom have similar noses, they will be a good match for each other.

Besides being a well performed and enjoyable listen, Kāzas sēļu zemēs is also a valuable folklore document, as comparatively little from the Selonia region has been recorded or released. Though the region is small, it still has a great wealth of folklore and folk songs, and, on Kāzas sēļu zemēs, Skandinieki have provided authentic and engaging performances of these wedding songs.

For more information, please visit the Skandinieki Facebook page.

Kāzas sēļu zemēs

Skandinieki

Lauska, CD077, 2018

Track listing:

    1. Àiz upeites
    2. Ogri müni goíļi dziéd(i)
    3. So:rkonais duábùeliņč
    4. Ķìrveleíc
    5. Iétan mu:n goàjējam
    6. Ziéduošana
    7. Kùodeļa spreslìca
    8. Jaúnas mäítas
    9. Malni vērši, bòlti rogi
    10. Mi:čuošänas dziésma
    11. Nätìšām(i) as ìegàju
    12. Pùra dancs
    13. Gùoda dziésma
    14. Valberģu polka
    15. Sēlpils bukurags
    16. Àisskrējä vanädzìņč
    17. Treís mäítiņ’s doàrzā
    18. Gulāt ìrbe, gulāt sluóka

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. 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.

Reinis Zariņš releases album of Lūcija Garūta’s piano works

One of the most notable Latvian composers in the first half of the 20th century was Lūcija Garūta. Taught by Jāzeps Vītols, the father of Latvian academic music and the founder of the Latvian Conservatory, she was one of the first professional female composers in Latvia, and she achieved a significant amount of success in Latvia in the period between the two World Wars.

During World War II, Garūta used her music to demonstrate against the Soviet occupation, and during this time she composed her best known work – the monumental oratorio Dievs, Tava zeme deg! (God, Thy Land is Aflame). Even today this work remains one of the most powerful large-scale choral works in Latvian music – the performance of her arrangement of the Lord’s Prayer – ‘Mūsu Tēvs Debesīs’ – was one of the most memorable moments of the 2018 Song Festival.

Garūta also composed extensively for piano. Recognizing her significant contribution to Latvian piano music, pianist Reinis Zariņš recorded an album Lūcija Garūta. Music for Piano, which includes both symphonic and solo piano works. Released by the Latvian national record label Skani in 2017 (40 years after Garūta’s death in 1977), this collection is a valuable and welcome addition to the comparatively few recordings of Garūta’s works.

Unlike many of her colleagues and members of the intelligentsia, Garūta remained in Latvia after World War II. Even though during the war she was hostile to the Soviet regime, Garūta was still allowed to compose, and perhaps her most significant post-war composition is her Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, composed in 1951. The work is dedicated to her niece Laila, who died tragically at a young age. Due to these circumstances, the work is both emotionally rich and vivid, at times even stormy, perhaps due to the wide range of emotions Garūta must have felt after Laila’s passing.  The somber second movement is particularly moving, as it includes elements from Latvian funeral songs, while the third movement adds elements of playfulness and vitality, concluding the work on what could be a hopeful, positive note. Zariņš is joined by the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Atvars Lakstīgala, and in their hands, the Piano Concerto, at times a requiem, at other times a tender remembrance of a young girl, makes for a deeply personal and intimate work.

As many Latvian composers have done throughout the years, Garūta also uses elements of Latvian folksongs in her works, such as in her variations on the Latvian folk song ‘Karavīri bēdājās’, composed in 1933, and still today remains one of her most popular works. As the title would indicate, this is a more serious work, about soldiers going to war and all the difficulties they face – from leaving their families to harsh conditions on the battlefield. At nearly twenty minutes, this expansive piano work is a showcase for Zariņš’ talents at not just skillfully performing the work, but also painting a captivating and engrossing portrait of the travails of soldiers.

The collection also includes four preludes written in the 1920s, as well as ‘Meditation’, written in 1935.

The CD concludes on the very tender ‘Lellītes aiju dziesmiņa’ (The Little Doll’s Lulling Song), also dedicated to niece Laila, and provides a quiet epilogue to this collection. This heartfelt work is given the appropriate emotion and feeling by Zariņš, and is a memorable performance of this deeply personal lullaby. In the CD liner notes, Zariņš shares a story of how he unexpectedly discovered the sheet music for this – it happened to drop out of one of Garūta’s photo albums that Zariņš was perusing.

The CD booklet features extensive information on Garūta and Zariņš, as well as the works performed, in both Latvian and English.

Lūcija Garūta. Music for Piano confirms again the significant contribution of composer Lūcija Garūta to Latvian academic music, particularly in the field of piano music. Channeling the many emotions Garūta displayed in her music, pianist Reinis Zariņš provides masterful and nuanced interpretations of her works, both the intimate solo works, as well as the sweeping Concerto for Piano. As has been the case in all of their releases so far, the Skani label has done an excellent job of highlighting not just notable Latvian composers, but Latvian performers as well. Music for Piano is a vital document of one of the most significant composers in Latvian history.

For further information, please visit the Skani website.

Lūcija Garūta. Music for Piano

Reinis Zariņš

Skani, SKANI056, 2017

Track listing:

    1. Concerto for Piano and Orchestra – 1stmovement
    2. 2ndmovement
    3. 3rdmovement
    4. Prelude in B minor
    5. Prelude in E major
    6. Prelude in C sharp minor
    7. Prelude in D flat minor
    8. Variations on the Latvian folk song ‘Karavīri bēdājās’
    9. Lellītes aiju dziesmiņa

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. 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.

“Mielavs un taurētāji” features new interpretations of Mielavs’ work

Singer and songwriter Ainars Mielavs, through his work with the band Jauns mēness, as well as through his solo career, has become one of the most recognisable talents in Latvia. For more than 30 years now his songs have been an integral part of Latvian popular music.

With this kind of experience, Mielavs has a certain amount of artistic freedom to pursue and investigate different aspects and interpretations of his songs. One recent, perhaps unusual, choice that he has made is to create new musical arrangements of his songs – this time backed by a brass band. Appropriately entitled Mielavs un taurētāji (Mielavs and the hornblowers), a play on the name of Mielavs’ solo group ‘Mielavs un pārcēlāji’, the ensemble released an album of these new interpretations in 2017. All of the songs were arranged by long time Mielavs collaborator, guitarist Gints Sola.

Joining Mielavs (vocals, harmonica) on the album are Jānis Porietis (trumpet), Raivis Māgurs (tuba), Artūrs Šults (French horn), Kaspars Majors (trombone) and Edgars Bārzdiņš (trumpet), as well as Juris Kroičs on percussion. The group first began performing together in 2016, and their first concerts were at the K.K. fon Stricka Villa in Riga.

One might think that these performances might be stereotypical ‘oom-pah-pah’ Oktoberfest versions, but that is not at all the case – Sola’s arrangements are both tasteful and respectful, and present these well-known songs in a different light. According to Mielavs, his interest in brass instruments has been with him since he was five years old, which is when he discovered his grandfather’s trumpet.

The brass arrangements are often intimate and tender, like in this new interpretation of the song ‘Reizēm’, where the horns create a light and slightly sentimental atmosphere for the song, particularly the trumpet harmonies. There is a similar effect on this new interpretation of one of Jauns mēness’ best known songs – ‘Piekūns skrien debesīs’ – the original, with its kokle was a more mystical performance, while this new version is more direct and personal, without losing the calm intensity of the original.

New facets are revealed in Mielavs’ ballads as well, for example the new version of one of Mielavs’ most popular solo songs – ‘Tu saviļņoji mani’. The brass band offers a finely woven background for this interpretation, at the same time adding a playful element to the music. Though many of the songs are slower and somber, there are lively moments, such as in the bouncy ‘Zem varavīksnes tilta’, particularly the energetic tuba performance.

Mielavs also included a few songs by other artists as well, such as ‘Bože hraņi poļarņikov’ by Russian songwriter Boris Grebenshchikov, and the album concludes with a combination of the popular Latvian song ‘Es zinu visi mani nievā’ and ‘Slava Aleluja’ (the Latvian version of the US Civil War anthem ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’).

The album is quieter than one might have expected, and, like much of Mielavs’ solo work, quite reserved. Brass instruments can of course be quite loud and powerful, and it would have been interesting to hear an arrangement of a more up-tempo song like ‘Kad mēness jūrā krīt’ or ‘Pārcēlājs’. And, at just slightly more than thirty minutes, the collection is briefer than one might have hoped – considering the many dozens of songs Mielavs has recorded, the listener is left wanting a bit more.

Mielavs un taurētāji is a quite pleasantly surprising collection – though many of the songs are quite well known, these are new and fresh interpretations of them. These performances reconfirm Mielavs’ strengths as a songwriter and singer – even with this non-traditional accompaniment, the songs remain vital and captivating.

For further information, please visit the Mielavs un Pārcēlāji website.

Mielavs un taurētāji

Upe, MP004, 2017

Track listing:

    1. Varbūt
    2. Piekūns skrien debesīs
    3. Paņem mani
    4. Atpogā manu kreklu
    5. Reizēm
    6. Tu saviļņoji mani
    7. Bože hraņi poļarņikov
    8. I Love You
    9. Zem varavīksnes tilta
    10. Es zinu visi mani nievā/ Slava Aleluja

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. 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.