Among the many benefits and advantages of having a national record company (for example Skani in Latvia), is that many composers and ensembles can be recorded and spotlighted, and comparatively rarely heard works and lesser-known aspects of a composer’s oeuvre can be brought to light.
Latvian composer Jānis Ivanovs is well known for his symphonic works, particularly his twenty completed symphonies. However, perhaps less well known is Ivanovs’ contribution to choir music. Interestingly, Ivanovs’ comparatively small contribution is only vocalises – songs with no words. Recognizing the historical and creative value of these works, Skani released a recording of all of them in 2022. Simply entitled Jānis Ivanovs – Vocalises, the works were recorded by the distinguished Latvian Radio Choir and conductor Sigvards Kļava.
Ivanovs began work on the vocalises in the 1960s and worked on them until his death in 1983. This collection contains all of them, as well as three newer editions (arrangements updated by composer Imants Zemzaris).
With no text to go by, the listener has only the title of the work to provide information, but Ivanovs skillfully creates atmospheric, picturesque musical visions with just the wordless voices of the choir. Many of the works have themes of nature, such as the mysterious, almost ghostly ‘Migla’ (Fog), where the female voices create an uneasy, eerie atmosphere, almost like voices that are lost in the fog calling out.
A similar melancholic mood is generated in ‘Lietainā dienā’ (On a Rainy Day), where the soaring female voices are balanced with the harsher, almost jittery voices of the male singers. The dreamily flowing ‘Gubu mākoņi’ (Cumulus Clouds) does conjure up imagines of clouds slowly making their way across the sky, but with a seeming tinge of sadness for the clouds’ departure. The singers of the Latvian Radio choir effectively create these natural landscapes with their expressive vocals.
The appropriately titled ‘Zīmējums’ (Illustration) shows Ivanovs adding layers of voices, like colors, to make a vivid picture or portrait, while the mournful ‘Eleģija’ (Elegy) begins somberly and quietly, with a gentle melody that rises and falls, all the time growing in intensity.
The CD booklet also includes an essay about these vocalises by composer Imants Zemzaris, which adds interesting details about these compositions – for example, Ivanovs often uses chromatic elements in his music, as well as styles influenced by Russian liturgical music. This would likely be because during World War I, as a refugee, he fled to Russia, where, as a young boy, he sang in church choirs. Zemzaris also notes the themes of nature woven throughout these compositions were likely inspired by childhood memories, as well as “scenes and landscapes of rural Latgale and Vidzeme.”
At times dreamy and atmospheric, at other times harsh and dissonant, and often hauntingly beautiful, Jānis Ivanovs’ Vocalises exhibits a broad and impressive range of what can be achieved with wordless vocals. Ivanovs’ compositions are enhanced by the vivid voices and performances of the Latvian Radio Choir and conductor Sigvards Kļava, and, thanks to the efforts of the Skani record label, we are able to enjoy this lesser known area of Ivanovs’ musical offering.
Jānis Ivanovs – Vocalises
Latvian Radio Choir, conductor Sigvards Kļava
LMIC/SKANi 144, 2022
1. Dzimtenes ainava
2. Rudens dziesma
4. Gubu mākoņi
5. Zīmējums (Imants Zemzaris ed.)
7. Ziemas rīts
9. Lietainā dienā
10. Varoņu piemiņai
12. I Prelūdija
13. II Fūga
15. Gubu mākoņi (Imants Zemzaris ed.)
18. Cantus Monodicus. Gloria
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