Double album reveals range of Latvian kokle


What could be more Latvian than the kokle? Now there’s a whole double compact disc devoted to this traditional string instrument, recorded by kokle expert and virtuoso of our times, Valdis Muktupāvels.

Don’t dismiss this collection of music because it focuses on just one instrument—an instrument that, while very pleasing to the ear, can quickly grow monotonous. In fact, Muktupāvels has compiled quite a diverse collection of music. The first CD consists of Muktupāvels’ own compositions and is therefore more “modern.” The second CD contains only traditional folk tunes. You can conveniently choose music according to your mood: modern or traditional.

The first CD, named Muktukokles, is the more varied of the two. On it one hears not only the kokle, but various other instruments, as well as some singing by Muktupāvels’ wife, Rūta. Except for two arrangements of traditional songs, Muktukokles is all modern compositions. For the most part, though, they appeal to a “traditional ear.” They also appeal to connoiseurs of Indian-influenced music. The 11-minute “Dzeltenās lapas tumšajā straumē” and the 14-minute “Austrumu blūzs” feature the Indian sarod, tambura lute, and tabla drum, as well as the guitar.

A song that drew my attention was the beautiful “Prūšu vedību dziesma,” which is presumably sung in Old Prussian, a Baltic language that died out a couple hundred years ago. The Old Prussian language has long been a particular interest to Muktupāvels. Another interest of his is overtone singing, like that done by the throat singers of Central Asia, who can sing two and three tones at a time (listen for the low drone plus the high whistling sound). This is heard in the compostion “Skaņā,” the sometimes strange-sounding “Briežu balss” and the tender “Rasas šūpļadziesma.”

Towards the end of Muktukokles is the absolutely superb “Sēju rūtu,” a song about the fleeting nature of youth. “Austrumu blūzs” follows it: nice, calm music, but not too Latvian-sounding. The last song, “Ilgas,” is again heavier on the kokle and repeats motifs from the first song, “Rati” (Wheels), named for the around-and-around meditative quality of kokle music.

The second CD, Tradicionālās kokles, has more than twice as many songs as the first disc. Considering that all of the tunes are played only on the kokle, with no other accompaniment, there’s still quite a bit of variation. Many of the tunes are lively dances from Kurzeme and Latgale, and Muktupāvels plays so nimbly, intricately and lightly, that, according to the old clichˇ, they truly make one want to get up and dance. Some of the better known tunes include: “Mugurdancis,” “Koklītes koklēja,” “Malni muni kumeleni,” “Bērīts manis kumeliņš,” “Kūkleites skanēja,” “Pīci bēri kumeleni” and “Tumsa, tumsa, kas par tumsu.” Even if you’re not into the kokle, tabla beats and overtone singing as highlighted on the first CD, Muktupāvels’ recording is worth getting just for this second CD of folk tunes.

Definitely give this recording a chance. It sounds like much more than just 11 kokle strings!



Valdis Muktupāvels

UPE Recording Co.,  2002

UPE CD 043

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