Countertenor, electronica artist take on Latvian folk songs

Dziesmiņās remdējos

The folk song, though it may have a simple melody and lyrics, has been a source of inspiration not just for listeners, but for musicians as well. Most every Latvian composer has written a folk song arrangement for choir, orchestra, solo instrument or for some sort of ensemble. Although the songs may be hundreds of years old, these arrangements more often than not sound fresh and compelling.

A case in point is the compact disc Dziesmiņās remdējos (Soothed by Songs). It is a collaborative effort among some of the most prominent Latvian musicians. The recording gathers countertenor Sergejs Jēgers, composer Raimonds Tiguls and the orchestra Sinfonietta Rīga, conducted by Māris Sirmais. The album features orchestral versions of Latvian folk songs, arranged by Tiguls. Also participating on the disc are pipe player Andis Klučenieks, Ieva Šablovska and Valdis Muktupāvels playing the kokle, and bagpipe and drum ensemble Auļi.

When I first heard about this CD and that it would feature arrangements by Tiguls, I was slightly apprehensive. Tiguls is best known for his slightly New Age and ambient instrumental arrangements. The albums Moonlight Sound Design and Bay Lounge were heavy on the keyboards and neither was particularly my cup of tea. However, my assumption was incorrect. These are beautiful arrangements that stay very close to the spirit of the original melodies, and the Sinfonietta Rīga orchestra is very prominent in the music.

Credit must go to Jēgers for being the key element of this project, as his soaring voice brings a poignant beauty to many of the songs, and a celebratory exultation to others. For example, in the folk song “Trīcēj’ kalni, skanēj’ meži,” the joyous vocals of Jēgers—with the swelling power of the orchestra alongside—bring a vibrancy to this Latvian ode to singing.

Jēgers also brings a deep tenderness to songs such as “Tumsa, tumsa, kas par tumsu,” a particularly delicate song about a man who is not worried about riding on a particularly dark night, as his bride has made him a blanket of stars. This is also exhibited in what is perhaps the most heartbreaking of Latvian folk songs, the orphan’s song “Tek saulīte tecēdama.” Jēgers emotionally sings the words, pleading with the sun to send warm wishes to the orphan’s recently departed mother.

That the arrangements are by Tiguls is still very much clear from the music, particularly in the arrangement of beloved folk song “Tumša nakte, zaļa zāle,” as well as “Aiz ezera augsti kalni,” which begins with an ambient musical introduction, and ends with an extended outro featuring an electric guitar solo.

A number of popular folk songs are performed here, including old favorites like “Rīga dimd” and “Aiz kalniņa dūmi kūpa,” with its interplaying trumpets, clarinets and drums, with the brass sound in particular giving the song an almost march-like feel. “Rīga dimd” also features slightly different lyrics than traditionally sung. Usually the song is about three brothers making a frightful racket in Rīga when forging a dowry chest for their sister, but now there are five brothers, so the din must be even louder! However, one moment in the song sounds slightly out of place: the brief bassoon burst at about the 3:07 mark is rather jarring.

Conductor Sirmais is also an integral part of the success of this CD. Though normally a choir conductor (conducting both the professional Latvian State Choir Latvija and the amateur choir Kamēr…) his talents for conducting, not too surprisingly, extend to orchestral conducting. This can be heard in the performance of the tender folk song “Pie Dieviņa gari galdi,” with its beautiful string performance in the introduction. Sirmais and Sinfonietta Rīga give Jēgers a foundation to make this song a particularly memorable one on the album.

The CD contains pictures of the musicians, and a very brief essay by Nora Ikstena. All text is also translated to English. However, it would have been nice to have the lyrics to the folk songs as well.

Jēgers, Tiguls, Sinfonietta Rīga and Sirmais have come together to create a memorable recording—one of the best collections of Latvian folk songs to be released. Unlike some other arrangements, which at times dilute their original beauty and simplicity, these celebrate and praise the folk songs. The album also gives these timeless melodies a modern sound, making this CD a joy to listen to and one of my favorites of 2009.


Dziesmiņās remdējos

Sergejs Jēgers, Raimonds Tiguls, Sinfonietta Rīga, Māris Sirmais

Upe tuviem un tāliem,  2009


Track listing:

Trīcēj’ kalni, skanēj’ meži

Mēnestiņis naktī brauca

Pie Dieviņa gari galdi

Tek saulīte tecēdama

Rīga dimd

Tumsa, tumsa, kas par tumsu

Silta, jauka istabiņa

Aiz kalniņa dūmi kūpa

Upe nesa ozoliņu

Tumša nakte

Aiz ezera augsti kalni

Where to buy

Purchase Dziesmiņās remdējos from BalticShop.

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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