Works performed by pianist Daumants Liepiņš on new CD reveal majesty, fragility of nature

Young Latvian pianist Daumants Liepiņš has, in a few short years, become one of the most notable and accomplished musicians in Latvia. Having won the Best Debut award at the Latvian Great Music Awards in 2017, he went on to competition victories, and in 2021, is, as a pianist, an artist in residence at the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel in Brussels.

To add to his achievements, Liepiņš recorded his first solo piano album, which was released in 2020, and contains works by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff and Latvian composer Imants Zemzaris. The works were selected by Liepiņš, to present the “majesty of nature and the fragility of the soul”.

Zemzaris’ Piano Sonata No. 3 is subtitled ‘Kaija’ (or ‘Seagull’), as the music is based upon incidental music Zemzaris composed for a production of the Anton Chekov play at the Valmiera Theater in 2001. In 2008, the composer refashioned the music into a proper piano sonata. The first movement has a fleeting quality about it, perhaps like a bird that is ready to fly away. The second movement becomes weightier and more somber. Zemzaris noted that the music is for the character of Konstantin Treplyov (also spelled Treplev), to show the character’s “stingingly freezing loneliness”. The music was also imagined to be a work that Treplyov himself composes offstage. The third movement is more melodic, dance-like, intertwining classical elements with more modern elements, almost playfully at times, though with hints of melancholy. This then leads to a thunderous crash at the beginning of the final movement, with a rumbling melody in the lower register of the piano, full of foreboding, even a sense of dread. Liepiņš provides a rich, thoughtful performance of Zemzaris’ composition, presenting the theatrical and dramatic elements of the work in an engrossing, riveting interpretation.

Rachmaninoff’s Etude-tableaux, Op. 39 No. 2 is a tender, almost fragile work, though it does have dramatic moments. Liepiņš compares the music of Rachmaninoff to water, waves in the sea, and this interpretation is imbued in Liepiņš’ performance – a flowing, undulating sound, at times calm, others stormy. Liepiņš plays with confidence, but also delicately, perhaps presenting the fragility of nature in his performance.

Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata No. 2 (1931 revision) is a stormy, tempestuous work, technically challenging, requiring a robust performance, which Liepiņš assuredly provides. A listener might hear the sound of bells in this work, particularly in the resonant descending intervals. Rachmaninoff often incorporated the sound of bells in his music, and musicologist Ināra Jakubone notes in the CD booklet that “allusions to the sound of bells are considered one of the musical symbols of Russia in Rachmaninoff’s music.” There is a respite to the storm in the second movement, while the grand third movement, Rachmaninoff alternates between thundering passages with brief bursts of melody in the upper register, as the work reaches its culmination. Liepiņš deftly handles this difficult work, with a monumental performance that encompasses both drama and lyricism.

Daumants Liepiņš has convincingly established himself as one of the premiere pianists in Latvia, and this album of music by Imants Zemzaris and Sergei Rachmaninoff confirms his talent and abilities, not just in performance but also dramatic interpretation.

For further information, please visit Daumants Liepiņš’ website

Rachmaninoff. Zemzaris

Daumants Liepiņš

LMIC/SKANI 084, 2020

Track listing

Sergei Rachmaninoff

  1. Etude-tableaux, Op. 39 No. 2

Imants Zemzaris

Piano Sonata No. 3 Kaija (Seagull) (2008)

  • Allegro
  • Andantino rubato
  • Moderato
  • Andante

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 36 (1931 version)

  • Allegro agitato
  • Non allegro – Lento
  • L’istesso tempo – Allegro molto

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.

Works of Latvian composer Rihards Dubra multi-layered, deeply spiritual

Latvian composer Rihards Dubra, has, in the past decade, established himself as one of the premiere composers of sacred music in Latvia. Finding inspiration in his Catholic faith, as well as the music of composers like Arvo Part and John Taverner, Dubra has composed extensively in the choral music genre, and his large-scale choral work ‘Te Deum’ won the Latvian Great Music Award in 2003.

Besides his works for choir, Dubra has also composed several symphonic works. Recognizing Dubra’s contribution to the field of Latvian symphonic music, the Latvian national record label Skani, in 2020, released a CD of two symphonic works – Symphony No. 2 and ‘Mystery of His Birth’. The recordings, made in 2015, were performed by the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra and conductor Atvars Lakstīgala.

A mournful tolling of a bell can be heard at the beginning of the first movement of Symphony No. 2 (subtitled ‘Visio’), which is then joined by a solemn melody performed in the brass section, which gradually expands and swells, then suddenly turns into a tense, rapid performance in the strings, punctuated by brief bursts of sound from the brasses. The bursts of sound continue, with a kind of an echo from the percussion. The turmoil goes on, but then suddenly changes into a serene, quiet melody in the middle of the movement. This then gradually builds to a crescendo near the end of the movement, as the turbulence returns, and the movement closes out with a dramatic, lengthy tonal descent.

The subtitle for the second movement is ‘Cantus’, and the music is meant to evoke a sacred choral song. A solemn, slow melody begins the movement, performed reverently by the orchestra. The performance is atmospheric and mysterious, and it retains its choral character until the very end, when there is a slight crescendo, and all the orchestra’s instruments come together like voices in a choir, elevating the performance. The movement concludes much as it began, with a quiet, reserved melody, in an almost tender performance.

The Book of Revelations provides inspiration for the third and final movement, entitled ‘Et vidi…’, and is by far the most dramatic section of the Symphony. Dubra himself calls the movement ‘apocalyptic’, and the intense, deliberate brass sounds accent the ominous nature of this section. Discordance, and an uneasy trepidation are woven throughout, and the intensity of the music continues until the conclusion. Still, even considering the apocalyptic nature of the music, the Symphony ends on a positive, bright note, with a flourish in the orchestra. A gong crash concludes the work, as perhaps a final warning.

“Mystery of his Birth”, a musical account of the events of Christmas Eve, features cello soloist Ēriks Kiršfelds, who, through the sounds of the cello, brings forth the mysticism and wonder of the work. The celebratory nature of the piece is accentuated by bells, as well as the rising melody in the brass instruments. The work ends rather suddenly, with an ascending melody in the cello supplemented by bells.

The CD booklet includes an extensive interview with the composer, where he gives insights into his influences and compositional style. Interesting tidbits include his interest in art rock, groups such as Yes and Gentle Giant, and that he also includes Gregorian themes in his compositions. Still, one would have liked to read more about the works themselves.

At times dramatic and ominous, at other times uplifting and positive, the symphonic music of Rihards Dubra distinguishes itself with both its intensity, as well as its deep spirituality. In the booklet notes, Dubra says he will “be happy if this music helps someone to persevere and overcome, to gain peace of mind”, revealing the personal and spiritual nature of his work – that music can be comforting and reassuring. The Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, along with conductor Atvars Lakstīgala, bring forth the many facets of Dubra’s music, confirming the singular talents of the composer and the many layers of his symphonic works.

For further information, please visit the composer’s page at the Latvian Music Information Center, and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra website.

Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, conductor Atvars Lakstīgala

Rihards Dubra – Symphony No. 2 / The Mystery of His Birth

LMIC 080, 2020

Track listing:

Symphony No. 2

  1. Visio
  2. 2. Cantus
  3. 3. Et vidi…

4. Mystery of His Birth

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.

Folk group Ceiruleits brings traditional life in Latgale to life on new album

The Latvian folk ensemble Ceiruleits has now been playing and performing since 1990. Based out of the town of Līvāni, the group performs folk songs from the Latgale region of Latvia in a traditional manner. The group released their most recent album – Skaņu balseņu palaidu – in 2021.

The large ensemble – the CD booklet lists seventeen participants (and almost all of them provide vocals) – is led by Anna Kārkle. With such a large number of vocalists and instrumentalists, the songs have a very rich and textured sound, and the arrangements make extensive use of vocal harmonies, such as on ‘Kyukoj pūru dzagyuzeite’ and the song ‘Skaņu balseņu palaidu’, where the soaring female voices are used to great effect.

The album is full of cheery, joyous songs, such as ‘Ļusteigu munu prōteņu’, a song about forgetting one’s troubles, and ‘Sazīdēja gaiļa pīši’, a wedding dance song, a tribute to the occasionally raucous and multi-day affairs that are Latgalian weddings. Ceiruleits provide a similarly exuberant performance of ‘Es nagōju krustobōs’, a christening song, and the guests wish the young child a hundred cows, bulls and horses.

Some of the most beautiful folk songs come from the Latgale region, and one such example is ‘Zynu, zynu tāva sātu’, a song about being always able to remember one’s father’s homestead, as a bride returns after being away for a long time, and Ceiruleits accent the longing in the wistful interpretation of this song.

Though most of the songs on the album are brief (two minutes or shorter), ‘Nadūd, Dīvs, veitūlam’ lasts for more than seven minutes. A song in a minor key (comparatively rare in Latvian folk songs overall, but a bit more common in songs from Latgale), the song, about a drunkard and his bride, tells of the travails and sadness of the bride. The bride waits all night for her drunkard to return home, but then eventually shuts the drunkard out of the house and makes him sleep on the road. The ironic refrain – which would indicate happiness in any other song – ‘I will wed the most beautiful girl and live happily ever after’ – compounds the tragedy of the song, and Ceiruleits give a memorable interpretation of the song.

The CD booklet contains the song lyrics, but it would have been interesting to read more about the ensemble and why some of the songs were chosen. The booklet could also have benefited from English translations (or brief explanations of what the songs are about), for those listeners not familiar with Latvian or Latgalian.

With their authentic performances, rich harmonies, and enthusiastic singing and playing, Ceiruleits have recorded a memorable album of Latgalian folk songs on Skaņu balseņu palaidu. Covering many aspects of life in Latgale – birth, christenings, weddings, working hard, and, most of all, enjoying life, the songs and performances reveal the many treasures that are Latgalian folk songs.

For further information, please visit the Ceiruleits Facebook page

Skaņu balseņu palaidu


SKU C 01, 2021

Track listing:

  1. Zynu, zynu tāva sātu
  2. Ceļ, mameņa, gūvu gani
  3. Kyukoj pūru dzagyuzeite
  4. Jura polka
  5. Tolka lela, tolka moza
  6. Jau sauleite aizalaide
  7. Zīdi, zīdi ōru pļova
  8. Gaismeņa ause
  9. Sazīdēja gaiļa pīši
  10. Aiz azara malni meži
  11. Oi, Dīveņ(i), soldons ols
  12. Nadūd, Dīvs, veitūlam
  13. Vysu mežu izstaigōju
  14. Es nagōju krustobōs
  15. Skaņu balseņu palaidu

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.