Compilation of Imants Kalniņš’ orchestral works released on 5 CD set

Few Latvian composers have achieved a similar level of success and renown as Imants Kalniņš. Both his popular songs and academic works are beloved by many Latvians, and his contribution to Latvian culture is immeasurable.

His academic work, particularly for symphony orchestra, is a cornerstone of the Latvian academic music repertoire, and, recognizing this, the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Atvars Lakstīgala and Māris Sirmais) endeavored to record and release all of Kalniņš’ orchestral works. Released in 2020, the five CD set, entitled Imants Kalniņš: Complete Symphonies & Concertos, gathers all seven of Kalniņš’ symphonies, three concertos, and two additional symphonic works.

A few of the works on this collection were previously released on 2017’s Imants Kalniņš and on 2015’s Sound of Freedom, but this is the first time several of the works (particularly the early symphonies and concertos) are released on CD.

Kalniņš’ best known and most popular symphonic work remains his Symphony No. 4, composed in 1973, nicknamed the ‘Rock’ symphony for its use of rock instruments like bass guitar, as well as its driving percussion. The version on this set is with the instrumental fourth movement (as opposed to the vocal movement used in other releases of this symphony). The appearance of a work in this style (especially considering that it was the early 1970s, still deep within the Soviet occupation of Latvia), achieved a notable resonance in society, and, even today, the work, with its energy and melodic elements, still sounds fresh and vital.

Kalniņš’ first three symphonies, less well known and composed in more traditional, academic styles, still reveal many of the embryonic elements that would make Kalniņš so beloved over the coming decades. The first symphony, composed in 1964, is often weighty and harsh, possibly influenced by early 20th century Russian composers like Shostakovich and Prokofiev. Symphony No. 2 (1965) could be considered more theatrical, the orchestra expressing a kind of dramatic action, but with Kalniņš’ talent for melody now becoming readily apparent (particularly the gentle melody of the second movement). The brief and dance-like Symphony No. 3, with its airy, almost dainty sound, could almost be ballet music, but still has some jarring tonal shifts (the tense, percussive second movement becomes a tragic funeral march in the third movement).

Themes of mysticism and magic often can be found in Kalniņš’ popular songs, and his Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra (2012) also has a mystical atmosphere, with the composer using the sound of the oboe to conjure a vision of an enchanted place of mythical beings. This recording was conducted by noted choir conductor Māris Sirmais, which is perhaps why the sound of the oboe seems to simulate a voice or a song.

Kalniņš added a choir to his Symphony No. 6 (2001), and, on this recording, it is the State Choir Latvija, also conducted by Sirmais. Here Kalniņš is again in storytelling form, with evocative passages seemingly illustrating what might be a victory celebration. The choir appears in the tender, gentle second movement, singing love poetry by Rabindranath Tagore (the text is, unfortunately, not included in the liner notes), while in the fourth movement, the work takes a more somber, sacred turn. This symphony is one of Kalniņš’ most meditative works, presenting a kind of spiritual journey.

Imants Kalniņš is a towering figure in Latvian music, one that has achieved major success in both popular and academic genres, and this collection of his symphonic works serves as a fitting tribute to such an integral figure in Latvian music culture. The Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, conducted by both Atvars Lakstīgala and Māris Sirmais, reveal the vitality and the many facets of Kalniņš music, and Imants Kalniņš: Complete Symphonies & Concertos serves as an emphatic testament to Kalniņš’ indelible contribution not just to music, but to Latvia as well.

For further information, please visit the Skani website

Liepāja Symphony Orchestra

Imants Kalniņš: Complete Symphonies & Concertos

LMIC/SKANI 087, 2020

Track listing

CD 1

Soundtrack to the Film Pūt, vējiņi: Finale

Symphony No. 4

Concerto for Cello and Orchestra

CD 2

Symphony No. 5

Concerto for Orchestra

CD 3

Symphonies No. 6 and 3

CD 4

Symphonies No. 1 and 2

CD 5

Symphony No. 7

Concerto for Oboe

Santa Cruz

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 soprano Inga Kalna treasures of late Romanticism on new album

Latvian soprano Inga Kalna, over many decades, has earned worldwide renown for her opera roles. In London she was La Contessa in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, in Hamburg she performed Stella in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, and she had many notable roles in Latvia, including Mimi in Puccini’s La Bohème and Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto.

Though most of her singing career was in operatic roles, Kalna also excels in solo performances. One of the most notable recent solo concerts she gave was in 2016, at the Dzintari Concert Hall, where, accompanied by pianist and former classmate Diāna Ketlere, she gave a recital of solo songs by German composer Richard Strauss, as well as Latvian composers Jānis Mediņš and Alfrēds Kalniņš. This performance won a Latvian Great Music Award in 2016, and the singer and pianist recorded and released an album with the works entitled Das Rosenband in 2020.

All three composers could be considered Late Romantics (late 19th century / first half of the 20th century), and there are similarities and trends that can be observed in their works. Kalna weaves together these songs into an almost seamless whole, confirming the works of the Latvian composers can readily stand alongside the work of Strauss.

Ketlere’s delicate, sensitive piano performance provides a lovely foundation for Kalna’s rich and nuanced vocals, including her earnest rendition of Strauss’ ‘Allerseelen’ (poetry by Hermann von Gilm), a somber song that celebrates the flowers placed on graves on All Souls’ Day in November, while reminiscing about a love in May.

Kalna’s resonant voice also shines in a stirring rendition of Jānis Mediņš’ ‘Glāsts’ (poetry by Atis Ķeniņš), imbuing the performance with longing, up until the final line ‘tevi meklēs gars vēl mans’ (My soul will search for you).

The theme of the approaching night is referenced in the text of both Strauss’ ‘Die Nacht’ (poetry by Hermann von Glim) and Mediņš’ Nocturno (poetry by Andrass or Alfrēds Andersons). Both works are steeped in dramatic resignation, and Kalna’s delivery of lines like ‘Alles nimmt sie, was nur hold’ ([The night] takes all that is fair) and ‘Viss nogrimst dusā’ (Everything sinks in slumber) adds a poignancy to these songs.

Themes of darkness also appear in Kalniņš’ ‘Jau aiz kalniem, jau aiz birzēm’, with poetry by Andrievs Niedra, a tale of listening to a wanderer’s song. Ketlere’s piano gives the song a dreamy atmosphere, while Kalna’s expressive and vivid vocals relate the narrator’s thoughts on what the wanderer might be singing about, even though it results in the narrator’s sadness – ‘bet manā sirdī mostas gaužas žēlabas’ (but bitter grief awakes in my heart).

The CD booklet includes a few brief notes on the concert program, and brief biographies of the three composers, but, curiously, does not include much information about Kalna or Ketlere. All the song texts are provided, all with English translation.

Inga Kalna calls upon her decades of experience on the stage to make for a truly engaging and absorbing performance on Das Rosenband. Confidently confirming that the solo songs of composers Alfrēds Kalniņš and Jānis Mediņš can stand on equal footing with the works of Richard Strauss, Kalna, along with accompanist Diāna Ketlere, whose piano playing is integral to the success of these performances, bring together these many treasures of late Romanticism and reveal their lyrical and musical beauty.

For further information, please visit Inga Kalna’s website and the Skani website.

Das Rosenband

Inga Kalna, soprano

LMIC/SKANI 083, 2020

Track listing:

1. Richard Strauss Allerseelen, Op. 10 No. 8

2. Jānis Mediņš Uz brītiņu (For a moment)

3. Richard Strauss Morgen!

4. Alfrēds Kalniņš Efeja vija (The ivy)

5. Richard Strauss Breit’ über mein Haupt, Op. 19 No. 2

6. Jānis Mediņš Aicinājums (Invitation)

7. Richard Strauss Zueignung, Op. 10 No. 1

8. Alfrēds Kalniņš Jūras vaidi (The moaning of the sea)

9. Richard Strauss Ruhe, meine Seele!, Op. 27 No. 1

10. Alfrēds Kalniņš Ūdens lilija (The water lily)

11. Richard Strauss Das Rosenband, Op. 36 No. 1

12. Jānis Mediņš Jaunā mīla (New love)

13. Jānis Mediņš Glāsts (The caress)

14. Alfrēds Kalniņš Minjona (Mignon’s song)

15. Richard Strauss Die Nacht, Op. 10 No. 3

16. Jānis Mediņš Nocturno

17. Richard Strauss Heimliche Aufforderung, Op. 27 No. 3

18. Alfrēds Kalniņš Jau aiz kalniem, jau aiz birzēm (Beyond the hills, beyond the groves)

19. Richard Strauss Cäcilie, Op. 27 No. 2

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.

Chants from various European cities in Schola Cantorum Riga’s new album

The Latvian Gregorian and Medieval music ensemble Schola Cantorum Riga, directed by Guntars Prānis, have, throughout their more than two decades of performing, established themselves as exceptional interpreters of early music. On their most recent album – 2020’s Vox Clara, the group presented recordings of chants from multiple European cities – not just Riga, but from Hamburg, Lund, Limoges, among others, and many of the texts have Christmas themes.

Many of the songs are performed with musical accompaniment, such as ‘Res est admirabilis’ from Limoges, which is introduced by a steady drumbeat provided by percussionist Ansis Klucis, as well as Ieva Nīmane playing the recorder, and Prānis performing the hurdy gurdy (an ancient, hand cranked string instrument). The accompaniment gives the performance a dance-like atmosphere and is a celebratory beginning to the album.

Nīmane also provides a kokle accompaniment for the performance of ‘Miserere mei’, based on text from Psalm 51. This prayer for mercy, combined with the ethereal sound of the kokle, creates a deeply spiritual atmosphere, as the vocals alternate between the unison Gregorian and the Falsobordone harmonies.

Mythological creatures appear in the text of ‘Unicornis captivatur’, from the Codex Engelberg. The solemn, occasionally even violent, tale of captured unicorns and hydras consuming crocodiles, is punctuated by a steady drum, like a heartbeat, creating a performance rich with mythical and fantastic imagery.

The soaring countertenor of Rūdolfs Bērtiņš imbues ‘Respondemos’, a Sephardic song from Spain, with deep reverence, and provides a gracefully flowing performance, while soloist Jānis Kurševs, in ‘Gaude Maria’, a song of rejoicing, provides quiet, yet powerful vocals.

‘Veni Sancte Spiritus’, an antiphon from Cambrai, France, is presented both in Latin and archaic Latvian. As Prānis notes in his introduction to the CD, in the Late Medieval period, the local language would often appear alongside the original Latin, and one of the goals of this recording is to present what these Medieval chants and songs might have sounded like in Latvia centuries ago.

The CD liner notes also contain all the texts (in Latin, English and Latvian), and some very brief notes about the texts and where they originated. The booklet could have gone into more detail about the works, since some listeners may not be familiar with the sources – for example, what the ‘Missale Rigense’ was, or the ‘Codex Saint Martial de Limoges’.

Besides being a recording of the highest quality, with Schola Cantorum Riga displaying their singular talents in performing early vocal music, Vox Clara also provides for a fascinating historical journey through the music of Europe, creating an absorbing listening experience. The ensemble and leader Guntars Prānis vividly present songs that are both solemn as well as celebratory, performing both with beauty and vitality.

For more information, please visit the Schola Cantorum Riga website.

Vox Clara

Schola Cantorum Riga

LMIC/SKANI 085, 2020

Track listing:

  1. Res est admirabilis
  2. Vox clara
  3. Benedicamus
  4. Ingrediente Domino
  5. Kyrie eleison ymas
  6. Miserere mei
  7. Unicornis captivatur
  8. Uterus hodie
  9. Veni Sancte Spiritus
  10. Plangas cum lacrimis
  11. Quasi stella matutina
  12. Alleluya alto re di gloria
  13. Respondemos
  14. Gaude Maria

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.