Lyrical power of cello highlighted by talented Latvian cellist Gunta Ābele

The cello, with its rich, melancholic sound and tones, has long been a beloved instrument among musicians and listeners. Adapting through the centuries to varied styles and environments – from Johann Sebastian Bach’s cello suites in the 18th century, to more recent arrangements of rock songs by groups like Apocalyptica and Latvia’s Melo-M, the sound of the cello has always been timeless.

The cello has also inspired many composers, and the cello repertoire has a particularly rich array of solo compositions. To present a few selections from this repertoire, notable Latvian cellist Gunta Ābele recorded an album of three solo cello works. Entitled Magnificello, the album was released by the Latvian national record label Skani in 2019.

Ābele’s album is truly a solo album – the three works included, by Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály, Latvian Pēteris Vasks, and Catalan Gaspar Cassadó, are for solo cello – no other instrument is to be heard on these recordings. Such is the magic of the cello, that even when performed solo, the sounds and images conjured by the performances by Ābele would make any other instrument superfluous.

Kodály’s work Sonata for Solo Cello op. 8, composed in 1915, unites both classical elements as well as Hungarian folk songs and dances. The majestic first movement, which makes dramatic tonal leaps, also has a mysterious element to it, with quick bursts of melody followed by subdued, somber sounds, all the while being dramatic and expressive. The slower second movement, with its long, mournful tones, brings forth a darker mood, perhaps influenced by the upheaval in Europe at that time. The third movement, perhaps the most overtly Hungarian of the three, is an almost frenetic dance, and Ābele’s performance is both energetic and nuanced.

In the Latvian repertoire, Pēteris Vasks’ “Grāmata” (or “Book”) for cello is a well known and beloved entry. Its two movements, being polar opposites (the first movement being fortissimo and the second being pianissimo), reveal a kind of duality, a kind of balance that only the sound of the cello could provide. Due to the work being so popular (it has been recorded many times by cellists around the world), it is a particular challenge to have one’s performance stand out, but Ābele is certainly up for it. From its tense, almost screaming beginnings, the first movement is at times tense, other times almost terrifying. Though composed in 1978, long before any faint hopes for Latvian freedom from Soviet occupation could be felt, Vasks perhaps expresses the pain and suffering of the oppressive regime in his music. The second movement, resigned and disconsolate, seems to project little hope or positivity. The cello is enhanced by Ābele singing a soft, wordless melody, giving the work an eerie, ghostly quality. Ābele’s performance of this work is both memorable and moving, confirming again why this is one of Vasks’ most affecting and poignant works.

Cassadó’s three movement Suite for Solo Cello, composed in the mid-1920s, a golden age of Spanish culture (the era of Dalí and Lorca, among many others), also synthesizes various cultural elements. Beginning with the Preludio-Fantasia, which seems to call to J. S. Bach’s Cello Suites, though also imbued with more modern elements, which then leads into the joyous dance of the second movement – Sardana. The suite concludes with the melodic Intermezzo e Danza Finale, an almost playful and festive performance, allowing Ābele to display her abilities in interpreting a multi-faceted work like this.

The three distinctive, 20th century cello works on Magnificello highlight Gunta Ābele’s skill and talent with the solo cello repertoire in its many diferent forms. All three of the works, expressive and multi-layered in their own distinctive ways, confirm not just Ābele’s abilities, but also the versatility and lyrical power of the cello.

For further information, please visit Gunta Ābele’s website and the Skani website.


Gunta Ābele

LMIC/SKANI 073, 2019

Track listing:


Sonata for Solo Cello op. 8 (1915)

1. Allegro maestoso ma appassionato

2. Adagio (con grand’ espressione)

3. Allegro molto vivace


Grāmata čellam (1978)

(“The Book” for Solo Cello)

4. Fortissimo

5. Pianissimo


Suite for Solo Cello

6. Preludio-Fantasia

7. Sardana

8. Intermezzo e Danza Finale

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.

Gifted Latvian pianist Zariņš melds classic and modern in one album

Latvian pianist Reinis Zariņš was the ‘artist in residence’ at Latvian Radio Klasika in 2018, which, among other benefits to the artist, provides a regular opportunity to not just perform, but to also have a significant say in repertoire. A multiple winner of the Latvian Great Music Award, Zariņš, who has performed throughout Europe and the United States, also works closely with Latvian composers and presents new works.

Among the compositions that have been dedicated to Zariņš is ‘Astoņstūris. Epizodes un sonāte’ (Octagon: Episodes and Sonata), a solo 8 movement piano cycle by Andris Dzenītis. Zariņš has placed this new cycle alongside another well-known 8 movement piano cycle – ‘’Kreisleriana’ by Robert Schumann. Zariņš recorded both cycles and released an album of them in 2019 entitled Kreisleriana. Octagon.

At first glance, besides each composition having 8 parts, there is very little similar between Dzenītis’ modern cycle and Schumann’s Romantic era cycle. Zariņš himself admits he ‘can’t precisely point out’ what links the two, beyond each series being a very personal composition and Dzenītis’ work having some Romantic elements in it.

Zariņš proves to be an adept interpreter of the tortured Schumann’s work. The Kreisleriana series goes through some rather dramatic and abrupt mood swings, from the nearly frantic first in the series ‘Äußerst bewegt’, and then in the much slower, resigned sixth section ‘Sehr langsam’. The final section, the playful ‘Schnell und spielend’ makes for a very dynamic showcase of Zariņš’ interpretive talents,

According to the liner notes, ‘Kreisleriana’ is based on the E. T. A. Hoffman character Kreisler, but with Schumann possibly drawing autobiographical parallels with him. One can sense that this work is a personal favorite of Zariņš’, considering the energy and fire he brings to the performance, Zariņš truly turns this into a kind of story. It is a work that Zariņš has performed many times throughout his life, and his familiarity and respect for the composition results in a highly satisfying performance.

The shift to Dzenītis’ ‘Octogon’ is a bit jarring, considering the centuries between the composition of these works. However, the first piece in the ‘Octogon’ series, the subdued and wispy ‘Elpot’ (or ‘Breathe’) is perhaps more of a prelude for the others, as its title would indicate, it provides a moment to take a breath, before the shrill, uneasy second piece – ‘Cikāžu roks’ awakens the listener with its bursts of sounds and moments of tense silence.

Dzenītis, much like one of his instructors, composer Pēteris Vasks, often includes themes of nature in his compositions, and ‘Octogon’ is full of them, such as in the brief ‘Dzeņa atbalss’ (Woodpecker Echo), where Zariņš goes as far as to tap on the piano itself, replicating the sound of the woodpecker.

Perhaps the most ‘traditional’ piece in the cycle is the melodic ‘Latviešu romance’ (Latvian Romance), where Dzenītis weaves together elements of dreams and sorrow to create a very tender, melancholic atmosphere, and Zariņš performance of the work is filled with nuance and emotional depth.

Dzenītis’ cycle ends with the longer piece ‘Triptihs-ikona’. The cycle is, per the composer, also inspired by travels in Greece, and this piece reflects ‘monasteries perched on the cliffs of ancient Meteora’, among other sacred elements, and brings the work to a meditative, peaceful conclusion.

With this pair of rather disparate solo piano cycles, Zariņš shows his skill in interpreting both well known Romantic works of another era such as Robert Schumann’s ‘Kreisleriana’ as well as more modern and abstract work such as Andris Dzenītis’ ‘Octagon’. Equally at home in both the classic and the modern, Zariņš, a truly gifted pianist, presents both works vividly and memorably.

For further information, please visit Reinis Zariņš website and the Skani website

Reinis Zariņš, piano

Kreisleriana. Octagon.

LMIC/SKANI 071, 2019

Track listing:


1. Äußerst bewegt

2. Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch

3. Sehr aufgeregt

4. Sehr langsam

5. Sehr lebhaft

6. Sehr langsam

7. Sehr rasch

8. Schnell und spielend


9. Elpot

10. Cikāžu roks

11. Zaļās ēnas

12. Dzeņa atbalss

13. Sv. mehānika

14. Latviešu romance

15. Sonāte

16. Triptihs-ikona

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.

Liepāja Symphony Orchestra perform dynamic works of Latvian composers on second concerti CD

The Liepāja Symphony Orchestra has long had close relationships with many Latvian composers. The Orchestra actively promotes new works, and many composers have written works dedicated to the Orchestra or works for the Orchestra to premiere. This culminated with the Liepāja Concerti project, where twelve Latvian composers were invited to compose a concerto for the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra to perform and record.

The first volume, entitled Liepāja Concerti Vol. I, was released in 2017, and contained concertos by composers Rihards Dubra, Vilnis Šmīdbergs, Ēriks Ešenvalds, Juris Karlsons and Kārlis Lācis, and was released by the Odradek record label.

The second volume, Liepāja Concerti II, was released in 2018 by the Latvian national record label Skani, and the two CD collection contains works by composers Kristaps Pētersons, Andris Dzenītis, Arturs Maskats, Andris Vecumnieks, and Platons Buravickis. All the works are from live performances conducted by former artistic director of the LSO, Atvars Lakstīgala.

Kristaps Pētersons’ Second Liepāja Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, a single movement work, begins with a tentative, plucked cello melody, performed by Kristīne Blaumane. Blaumane’s cello performance is full of sound effects, reflecting the variety of sounds the cello can produce. As the orchestra joins in, the tension rises within the work, with Blaumane’s cello at times harsh, other times ominous. At times it even sounds like Blaumane is in conflict with the orchestra, almost in battle, or perhaps trying to escape. This conflict continues until the subdued conclusion of the work, which ends with a few wistful, barely audible cello tones.

A crash of piano, performed by celebrated Latvian pianist Vestards Šimkus, introduces the First Liepāja Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, by Andris Dzenītis. Entitled ‘Duality’, which, as per the composer, is meant to reflect the suffering and misery that can arise when something is divided. The composer even uses the word ‘anarchy’ when describing the work, and this is certainly a description that many listeners will think of, considering the way the instruments seem to thrash against each other. The weighty one movement work, at almost forty minutes, can be an exhausting, even terrifying listen. However, there are moments of serenity and calm which balance out the more turbulent elements, and Šimkus provides a bravura performance throughout this challenging work, particularly in the range of emotions displayed in the extended piano solo section.

The third concerto in this collection, Arturs Maskats’ Twelfth Liepāja Concerto for Piano and Orchestra offers a rather dramatic contrast with the first two works. Maskats is known for his melodic, even delicate works, and his three movement concerto features many of the often theatrical flourishes the composer is known for. Pianist Reinis Zariņš crafts an engrossing atmosphere, particularly in the second movement, entitled ‘Dances for the Moonlight’, where Zariņš’ piano flows together with the sound of the orchestra to conjure a romantic evening.

The Trio ‘Art-I-Shock’ feature on composer Andris Vecumnieks’ Fifth Liepāja Concerto ‘Concertino Art-I-Shock’. The trio, made up of Guna Šnē on cello, Elīna Endzele on percussion and Agnese Egliņa on piano, provide an energetic and nuanced performance. Though the work has five movements, each is brief, almost like individual miniatures, which come together to form a multicolored performance. At times playful and even humorous, other times sentimental, Vecumnieks weaves together French, Italian, and his own elements to create a vivid engaging musical story.

The final work in the collection, composer Platons Buravickis’ Eleventh Liepāja Concerto for Voice and  Orchestra features the vocal talents of soprano Julianna Bavarska. Bavarska’s singing, a wordless vocalize, is often beautiful, but also tense, soaring above the deliberate, methodical performance of the orchestra. The music, which at times sounds like a military march, particularly in the staccato brass instruments, is at times relentless in its progress, while Bavarska’s voice is in a near-constant state of motion, not seeming to pause at all.

The five works on Liepāja Concerti II highlight the broad universe of sound and style that can be found in modern Latvian academic music. From passages of harsh dissonance to moments of sublime beauty, conductor Atvars Lakstīgala and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra lead listeners through a myriad of sonic explorations and journeys and prove themselves to be peerless interpreters of these diverse and dynamic works that highlight the creative abilities of Latvian composers.

For further information, please visit the Skani website and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra website.

Liepāja Concerti II

LMIC / SKANI 065, 2018

Track listing


1. Kristaps Pētersons – Second Liepāja Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, dedicated to Visvaldis Ziediņš

Kristīne Blaumane, cello

2. Andris Dzenītis – First Liepāja Concerto for Piano and Orchestra “Duality” (2010) / 40:42

Vestards Šimkus, piano


Arturs Maskats – Twelfth Liepāja Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (2017) / 27:56

Reinis Zariņš, piano

1. Dances for the Spring Rain and Wind

2. Dances for the Moonlight

3. Dances for the Dawn

Andris Vecumnieks – Fifth Liepāja Concerto “Concertino Art-i-Shock”

Trio Art-i-Shock: Guna Šnē, cello; Elīna Endzele, percussion; Agnese Egliņa, piano

4. Grazioso I

5. Quasi valse. Con sentimento

6. Toccata

7. Quasi valse. Senza sentimento

8. Grazioso II

9. Platons Buravickis – Eleventh Liepāja Concerto for Voice and Orchestra (2016)

Julianna Bavarska, soprano

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.