Canadian Latvian composer Tālivaldis Ķeniņš, who was born in 1919 and passed away in 2008, through his many decades of composition and work in the music field, is a towering figure in Latvian academic music. Throughout his long and storied career, Ķeniņš wove together many styles of music – conductor Andris Poga notes “touches of modernism, expressionism and also Jazz” can be heard in his music.
For all his renown, Ķeniņš and his works are comparatively less well known in Latvia, likely due to Ķeniņš spending the bulk of his life in Canada as an exiled Latvian during the Soviet occupation of Latvia. However, with the centenary of Ķeniņš birth in 2019, interest in his work was heightened, and the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Andris Poga performed and recorded several of his works. An album of three orchestral works – the Violin Concerto, the Concerto for Five Percussionists and Orchestra, and ‘Beatae voces tenebrae’ – was released in 2020.
The Violin Concerto, featuring soloist Eva Bindere, is a work of five movements (without any pauses between the movements) that is a near constant stream of musical activity. The almost frenetic work, which at a moment’s notice can go from a harsh sound to a lyrical melody, from a rapid, intense performance to a slower, methodical one, gives Bindere a showcase for her talents. The mournful, mysterious second movement is a highlight, as well as the final movement, much of which is Bindere performing solo. With her clear, lyrical tone, Bindere’s violin reveals the nuances and subtleness in Ķeniņš’ work, all the way to the dramatic and sudden conclusion.
The Concerto for Five Percussionists (on this recording they are Mikus Bāliņš, Elvijs Endelis, Elīna Endzele, Guntars Freibergs, and Ernests Mediņš – collectively the Perpetuum Ritmico ensemble) begins dramatically, almost ominously. An uneasy calm is present in the second movement, with the strings of the orchestra adding a dreamlike quality to the sound of the percussionists, which then transitions to the sharp, sudden sounds of the third movement. The percussionists, performing on a variety of percussive instruments, create a vivid sound palette throughout the work, culminating in the intense and thunderous concluding movement, with the percussion giving a slight military feel, with a sound almost like an alarm as the work concludes.
Ķeniņš rarely offered any programmatic notes for his works, simply entitling them ‘symphony’ or ‘concerto’ and letting the listeners decide for themselves what to think, but on the work ‘Beatae voces tenebrae’ Ķeniņš did offer some notes on the inspiration for it. Prior to the time of composition, the composer had lost two close friends, and the sorrow and anguish can be heard throughout the work. As the composer’s son, Juris Ķeniņš described it, the work is a “meditation about death and eternity”. From its reserved, somber beginning, to the funereal middle section, there are still elements of tenderness, as if remembering someone. The Orchestra, along with conductor Poga, bring forth the many emotions and moods of this layered work.
The CD booklet contains many fascinating notes about Ķeniņš’ life, how, prior to World War II, he studied in Paris, and, upon return to Latvia, was initially refused admission to the Latvian Conservatory by composer Jāzeps Vītols (who believed Ķeniņš wasn’t quite ready as a composer), but colleague, fellow composer Ādolfs Ābele, took on the responsibility to teach Ķeniņš. Ķeniņš returned to Paris as a refugee during World War II, and continued his education there, among his teachers was renowned French composer Olivier Messiaen. Ķeniņš later emigrated to Canada, where he became a professor at the University of Toronto.
Through his many decades of work, Tālivaldis Ķeniņš established himself as one of the premiere 20th century composers, and this collection of his orchestral works confirms his place as one of the most distinguished Latvian, as well as Canadian, composers. The Latvian National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Andris Poga, as well as the soloists, provide vivid and dynamic performances, which are a tribute to this illustrious, venerable composer and his incomparable contribution to academic music.
Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, conductor Andris Poga
LMIC/SKANI 088, 2020
Violin Concerto (1974)
- Moderato con moto
- Piu lento
- Doppio movimento. Scherzoso
- Doppio piu lento
- Cadenza. Senza misura
Concerto for Five Percussionists and Orchestra
- Vivo e marcato – Un poco meno mosso
- Molto animato
- Coda. Presto
- Beatae voces tenebrae
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