Latvian Radio Choir creates engaging musical journey with works by Latvian composers

The Latvian Radio Choir, long known not just for their versatility, but also their enthusiasm for modern and challenging works, have, for decades now, brought the names and music of Latvian choir music composers to audiences over the world. Through the tireless efforts of conductors Sigvards Kļava and Kaspars Putniņš, names such as Maija Einfelde, Mārtiņš Viļums, Andrejs Selickis, among many others, have been heard by audiences that would likely not have heard them otherwise.

The choir also diligently release recordings of the works of Latvian composers, such as The Fruit of Silence, Mārtiņš Brauns’ Daugava, Daba un dvēsele, among many others. On their 2019 CD Evening Impression (or Vakara impresija), the choir presents more introspective, ethereal choir works by Latvian composers, all composed in the past decade.

Sacred elements imbue many of the works on this collection. Using text from the Gospel of John, composer Juris Karlsons’ gently flowing ‘Gaisma’ (or ‘Light’) creates a calm, reassuring atmosphere with its repeated phrase ‘Es esmu gaisma’ (I am the Light). Composer Andrejs Selickis finds inspiration in the 51st Psalm for his ‘Radi manī, ak Dievs’ (Create in Me), and intertwines Gregorian and Byzantine elements to create a deeply spiritual work. Ēriks Ešenvalds sets the writings of the Eastern Orthodox monk Silouan the Athonite to music in the contemplative ‘I Write’. The work, envisioned as an episode from the monk’s life, is a deeply reverent prayer, lifted to soaring heights by the voices of the choir.

Ešenvalds also provides the brief and almost fragile ‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’. Using text by Irish poet William Butler Yeats, the work, a confession of love, is vividly interpreted by Ešenvalds and his striking harmonies.

Pēteris Vasks interprets the poetry of Latvian poet Imants Ziedonis in ‘Mīlas dziesmas’ (Songs of Love), a cycle of five miniatures. From the gently undulating ‘Tāds gaišums’, to the very reserved and solemn ‘Un pēkšņi tāds klusums’ and the reflective, delicate ‘Ne lapa nekustas’, Vasks’ brings forth the spiritual and emotional in the poetry. The cycle was composed shortly after Ziedonis’ death in 2013, and the choir ensures that this is a highly personal, performance of this work.

Latvian poetry also provides inspiration for Maija Einfelde’s ‘Vakara impresija’, based on a poem by Rainis. Einfelde’s music often has harsh, even emotionally raw harmonies, and Rainis’ text about approaching dusk becomes unsettling, even ominous. Arturs Maskats’ lyrical, expressive ‘Liepziedā’, based on poetry by Ojārs Vācietis, gives the choir many opportunities to display their skill in this nuanced, colorful composition.

Jēkabs Nīmanis has composed much for theater, and this is evident in his ‘Krēslas stundas’, a kind of ghost story set to music based on a text by Jānis Vainovskis. Partially spoken, the choir acts as a kind of narrator for the otherworldly text about an unexpected encounter with a female spirit.

Slightly out of place on this particular collection is Mārtiņš Viļums’ ‘Bij’ man viena balta pupa’, if only because the work, based on a Latvian folksong, is sung in a Latvian folk style (that is, occasionally loudly and shrilly). Still, the work, with its extensive mythological elements (according to the liner notes, “The bean is an ancient Indo-European mythological symbol – the path to heaven”) and mystical atmosphere, results in a dramatic and engrossing performance.

Calm and meditative, the Latvian Radio Choir and conductors Sigvards Kļava and Kaspars Putniņš create an engaging and ruminative musical journey. Combining sacred and secular elements, as well as both melodic and discordant sounds, Evening Impression further displays the many facets of the sound of the choir, and reaffirms their position as the leading interpreters of modern Latvian choir music.

For further information, please visit the Latvian Radio Choir website.

Evening Impression

Latvian Radio Choir

LMIC/SKANI 075, 2019

Track listing:

1. Juris Karlsons – Gaisma

Pēteris Vasks – Mīlas dziesmas

2. Tāds gaišums

3. Un pēkšņi tāds klusums

4. Kur biju?

5. Tad apstājas laiks

6. Ne lapa nekustas

7. Jēkabs Nīmanis – Krēslas stundas

8. Ēriks Ešenvalds – He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

9. Ēriks Ešenvalds – I Write

10. Mārtiņš Viļums – Bij’ man viena balta pupa

11. Maija Einfelde – Vakara impresija

12. Andrejs Selickis – Radi manī, ak Dievs

13. Arturs Maskats – Liepziedā

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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