Due in part to the Latvians’ propensity to sing, there are a bewilderingly large number of choirs in Latvia. Most every institution—be it educational or commercial—has a choir (for example, the Lattelecom Choir or the Hansabanka Choir). Latvia even has a government sponsored choir, Valsts Akadēmiskais koris Latvija (State Academic Choir Latvija). You might expect the choir, being state sponsored, to be one of the best in Latvia if not the entire world. And you would be right. Latvija, along with highly respected conductor Māris Sirmais, has made a name for itself worldwide and has won the Latvian Great Music Award on a number of occasions.
Latvija also makes a point of performing and recording new music. This is not your average choir singing old standards. It is always at the forefront in terms of working with the composers of today and performing recently composed works, not just by Latvian composers, but by international composers as well (for example, the choir recently worked together with composer John Taverner). In 2006, the choir released a compact disc containing two such new works by Latvian composers: Ēriks Ešenvalds’ “Passion and Resurrection” and Rihards Dubra’s “Te Deum.”
Latvija also performs many different types of choir works, mainly focusing on large scale works such as oratorios and masses. On this CD, both works, as is obvious from their titles, are sacred works, the performance of which is one of the strengths of Latvija.
Ešenvalds’ “Passion and Resurrection” is a work in four movements and is based on the story of the suffering and rebirth of Christ, with text taken directly from the Gospels (and some other sources), both in Latin and in English. Assisted by the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, Latvija take this powerful work and imbues it with the necessary dynamic so that the full scale of the suffering of Christ is brought through in the performance. Ešenvalds is a rising star among Latvian composers. The young composer skillfully takes such a weighty and well-known topic and develops a major work of power and subtlety. Ešenvalds himself is a tenor in Latvija, which gives the choir a particularly personal insight into the performance of this work.
The second work Dubra’s “Te Deum.” It is a truly epic composition. Although just under 15 minutes, this song of praise to God is breathtakingly moving. The sheer number of artists required to perform the work indicates its scope: boys’ choir, girls’ choir, women’s choir, men’s choir, two mixed choirs, soprano saxophone, French horn, two sets of bells, tam tam and, if that was not enough, organ. Latvija is joined on the recording by some of the brightest stars of choir music, including the Balsis youth choir, the Kamēr youth choir, the Rīga Dome Choir School Girls’ Choir, as well as the Rīga Dome Boys’ Choir. The performance of “Te Deum” as part of the 2003 Song Festival was considered one of the defining moments of the event, and not for nothing did Dubra receive the Great Music Award in 2004 for the composition.
One of the highlights of the CD is the packaging. It features extensive detail about all the performers and composers in Latvian, English and even German. But it also includes unnecessarily extreme close-up shots of the composers and some performers. Do I really need to be able to see into Dubra’s nose? Yipes! Full texts of the works (with Latvian translation) are also available in the booklet.
The State Academic Choir Latvija (and friends) has released a remarkable CD that all choir fans, as well as all sacred music fans, will appreciate. Sacred choir music is a genre that is alive and well in Latvia, and Latvija, being one of the best performers of this type of music, along with two great works by composers Ešenvalds and Dubra, make this CD an essential purchase for choir music connoisseurs.
Ēriks Ešenvalds “Passion and Resurrection” / Rihards Dubra “Te deum”
Valsts Akadēmiskais koris Latvija
Valsts Akadēmiskais koris Latvija, 2006
On the Web
The state-sponsored choir’s Web site provides information about its repertoire, its recordings and the Sacred Music Festival. EN LV
Where to buy
Purchase Ēriks Ešenvalds “Passion and Resurrection” / Rihards Dubra “Te deum” from BalticMall.
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