One of the most ambitious projects in Latvian academic music history was the ‘Liepāja Concerti’ project – the commissioning of twelve concertos by twelve different Latvian composers, to be performed and recorded by the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Atvars Lakstīgala. Over the course of the past decade, the composers, taking inspiration from the city of Liepāja, began producing a wide variety of musical offerings, meant not just to showcase Liepāja and its orchestra, but also the broad compositional talents of Latvian artists.
The concertos were also recorded, and the first set of recordings appeared in 2017. Entitled Liepāja Concerti Vol. I, the two CD set showcases concertos by Latvian composers Rihards Dubra, Vilnis Šmīdbergs, Ēriks Ešenvalds, Juris Karlsons and Kārlis Lācis, and it was released by the Odradek record label.
A mournful piano melody begins Rihards Dubra’s Liepāja Concerto No. 3 for piano and orchestra. Pianist Endijs Renemanis brings Dubra’s music vibrantly to life, as the single movement work grows in intensity as it quickly reaches a dramatic crescendo. In the middle of the work, the work takes a sudden turn from the intense atmosphere to a more introspective mood, as Renemanis, along with the orchestra, present a new facet to this performance, akin to a solitary stroll along a deserted beach in the Kurzeme region of Latvia. The final section of the work is majestic and vibrant, as the piano and orchestra come together in a thunderous, almost explosive, conclusion.
The first movement of Vilnis Šmīdbergs’ Liepāja Concerto No. 8 for violin and orchestra presents a mysterious atmosphere, with violinist Ilze Zariņa performing a mystical and magical melody. The second movement continues this development, developing into an ominous and almost frightening climax, as Zariņa’s violin acts as a kind of a narrator for the work, displaying a range of emotions and reactions. The final moment is full of tension, and its rapid tempo adds to the disquieting and uneasy ambience of the work. The orchestra provide an engrossing performance, all the way to the sudden and unexpectedly quiet end.
Natural phenomena have provided much inspiration for composer Ēriks Ešenvalds, and that is reflected also in his Liepāja Concerto No. 4 ‘Visions of Arctic Night’ for clarinet and orchestra. Much of the work is of a fleeting, temporal nature, much like the Northern Lights, yet has a richness and fullness, perhaps reflecting the Kurzeme region as well. Clarinetist Ints Dālderis presents these visions almost like painting a picture, bringing together the various colors and sounds to reveal these nocturnal scenes, particularly in the dramatic third movement.
The title of Juris Karlsons’ Liepāja Concerto No. 9 is ‘Gliese 581’, and was inspired by the discovery of the red dwarf star Gliese 581, whose planets are theorized to be able to generate and sustain life. These cosmic and universal elements pervade through this work, and Karlsons has said that the work is about ‘searching, erring, finding and longing’, and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra adeptly and adroitly bring forth all these elements in their performance, particularly in the middle section, where the orchestra sounds like ticking clocks, further enhancing the elements of space and time in the work.
The final concerto on this collection is Kārlis Lācis’ Liepāja Concerto No. 10 ’42.195’ for flute, oboe, and orchestra, and the numerical title indicates the number of meters in a marathon. As the work is inspired by running, there is a sense of constant movement, reflected in the performances of flutist Miks Vilsons and oboist Pēteris Endzelis. Though also a very dramatic work, the work distinguishes itself with the occasional light-hearted, even humorous, moment, such as the grand waltz that appears early in the work, as well as the jubilant and vivacious middle section.
Conductor Atvars Lakstīgala and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra have brought these disparate works vividly to life, revealing the many different styles and approaches of Latvian composers. Over the course of these two CDs, listeners will hear the many facets and elements of Latvian academic music, all adeptly presented by the orchestra and soloists.
Liepāja Concerti Vol I
Liepāja Symphony Orchestra
Odradek, ODRCD362, 2017
- Rihards Dubra – Liepāja Concerto No. 3 for piano and orchestra
- Vilnis Šmīdbergs – Liepāja Concerto No. 8 for violin and orchestra – I. Andante moderato
- II. Andante
- III. Presto
- Ēriks Ešenvalds – Liepāja Concerto No. 4 for clarinet and orchestra – I. Inquieto – Misterioso
- II. Espressivo – Misterioso
- III. Maestoso – Grave – Limpido
- Juris Karlsons – Liepāja Concerto No. 9 ‘Gliese 581’
- Kārlis Lācis – Liepāja Concerto No. 10 ‘42.195’ for flute, oboe and orchestra