Choir’s collection is one of the best ever

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Many people are quick to heap praise on conductor Māris Sirmais and his work with the State Choir Latvija, and with good reason. They have achieved laurels worldwide, and have released many noteworthy recordings. In 2008, Sirmais and Latvija released yet another excellent and significant collection of choir songs, No Baltijas krasta / From the Baltic Coast.

No Baltijas krasta collects some of the best choir work by noteworthy Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian composers.

Of particular note is the recording of Latvian-Canadian composer Imants Ramiņš’ arrangement of the Latvian folk song “Pūt, vējiņi!” Differing from the traditional arrangement by Andrejs Jurjāns, this version has a subtly different melody and adds the rarely heard sixth verse, “Pats precēju līgaviņu, Tēvs, māmiņa nezināj’” (I wed my own bride, asking neither mother’s nor father’s leave). I am rather surprised that this extra verse is not normally heard, as it adds a bit of context to the song itself (about a man not being given permission by a girl’s mother to marry her). One of the most beautiful of Latvian songs is given a fresh and memorable look by Ramiņš, as well as soprano soloist Sanita Sinkēviča.

From Catholic Lithuania we are given the very spiritual “Pater Noster” by Vytautas Miškinis, who specializes in musical arrangements of religious texts. The piece begins quietly, rises to a crescendo, then, as the prayer is delivered, closes with a barely audible “Amen.” Miškinis displays his innate ability to transform these Latin texts into powerful works of music, magnificently assisted by Sirmais and the choir.

Latvia is also represented by the very spiritual Pēteris Vasks and one of his most famous choir works, the ominous “Māte saule,” with lyrics by Jānis Peters. The text at first glance seems to be simply about a new day breaking and about baking bread, but becomes a powerful statement on eternity with the music of Vasks, giving the sense that humanity itself is hanging in the balance.

If “Māte saule” can be called ominous, then “Raua needmine” (Curse Upon Iron) by Estonian composer Veljo Tormis is downright sinister, if not terrifying. The text is full of violent imagery of weaponry and death—and the music requires a heroic effort by tenor soloist Juris Jēkabsons, as well as bass soloist Zigmārs Grasis.

Besides the aforementioned works, the CD contains recordings of works by Ēriks Ešenvalds, Arvo Pärt, Rihards Dubra, Pēters Butāns and Georgs Pelēcis, covering the broad spectrum of Baltic composers and their styles.

No Baltijas krasta is one of the best and most valuable choir music collections I have heard. So much great music has come from the Baltic countries that to narrow it down to one single album is not possible, but as an overview of modern Baltic choir music, this CD is second to none. Thanks to the tireless efforts and artistic talent of conductor Sirmais and the State Choir Latvija, we, the listeners, are blessed.


No Baltijas krasta / From the Baltic Coast

State Choir Latvija

VAK,  2008


Track listing:

Imants Ramiņš, Pūt, vējiņi

Ēriks Ēšenvals, Sara Teasdale, Evening / Vakars

Vytautas Miškinis, Pater Noster / Mūsu tēvs

Arvo Pärt, The Deer’s Cry / Brieža brēciens

Pēteris Vasks, Māte saule

Rihards Dubra, Hail, Queen of Heaven / Esi sveicināta, debesu karaliene

Pēteris Butāns, Sākumā bija vārds

Georgs Pelēcis, Смертью смерть поправ / Nāvi ar nāvi iznīcinājis

Eksapostilārijs / Ексапостиларий

Stihīra / Стихира

Aleluja / Аллилуия

Rihards Dubra, Ja Tu no debesīm nonāksi

Veljo Tormis, Raua needmine / Dzelzs apvārdošana

Where to buy

Purchase No Baltijas krasta / From the Baltic Coast from BalticMall.

Note: Latvians Online receives a commission on purchases.

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.

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