Throughout the years, many choirs in Latvia, both professional and amateur, have released albums of Latvian choir music.
A new entry to the mix of choir CDs is Diena aust, a collection of Latvian choir classics (choir songs written in the early 20th century) recorded by the Latvian Radio Choir and conducted by Sigvards Kļava. Focusing on what many consider to be the golden era for Latvian choir music, the CD contains a selection of works by the composers of that era.
Interestingly, the Latvian Radio Choir is perhaps best known for their focus on modern choir works (witness their Latvijas jaunā raža collection with performances of very difficult and challenging new compositions), but they are just as comfortable with the classics. In fact, Diena aust could be considered a follow up to their 2008 recording Skaisti dziedi, with performances of classic folk song arrangements.
No classic choir music collection would be complete without works by the best known composer of the era – Jāzeps Vītols. Though Vītols may be better known for such thundering choir epics like ‘Gaismas pils’ and ‘Karāļmeita’, many of his works have a rather remarkable tenderness. From the lyrical opening to the exulting crescendo at the conclusion, the choir delivers a sweeping performance of Vītols’ ‘Diena aust’ (lyrics by Jānis Esenberģis). Oddly, the choir drops the first verse of ‘Saule austrumos’ (lyrics by Teodors Zeiferts), a bit surprising and unclear if that was intentional or not.
Though his compositional output can be considered minimal – the seventeen choir compositions by Emīls Dārziņš remain not only a cornerstone of any Latvian choir’s repertoire, but also beloved by listeners. With his melodic sense and lyricism in songs like ‘Sapņu tālumā’ (words by Aspazija), but also the dramatic tension of a song like ‘Ciānas bērni’ (also by Aspazija), his choir works cover a range of emotions. The Radio Choir bring out these nuances, with the defiant introduction of ‘Ciānas bērni’, as well as the tenderness of the third verse of ‘Minjona’ (words by Goethe) – the quiet words ‘Vai zini kalnu, kuru mākons sedz?’ (Do you know the hill that is covered by a cloud?). The choir reminds us of the beauty of these songs and why they still resonate more than a century later.
Another popular romantic and lyrical composer of that era was Pēteris Barisons. The choir brings the right touch of playfulness and celebration to the dance-like middle section of ‘Pavasara jausma’ (lyrics by Atis Ķeniņš). The dreaming and longing of ‘Zilie sapņu kalni’ (lyrics by Kārlis Ieviņš) leads the listener on a memorable journey, with the women’s voices singing the sentimental words ‘Pāri tumšām dzīves lejām māj mums tie, ko mīlējuši.’ (Over the dark valleys of life, the ones who loved us wave.)
A particular treat is to hear the Radio Choir perform Jānis Zālītis’ ‘Kad nakts’, a less frequently performed work, with some of famed Latvian poet Rainis’ most romantic words. The understated performance of the song, with its quiet climax of the men’s voices singing ‘lai nezin to neviens’ (let no one know this), makes for particularly stirring listening.
Beyond the mentioned composers, the CD also contains memorable performances of works by Emilis Melngailis, Alfrēds Kalniņš, Jāzeps Mediņš, and Jānis Kalniņš. The CD booklet also has extensive notes on each composer in both Latvian and English.
This collection is particularly enjoyable as it does not focus on the ‘obvious’ repertoire – the CD does not have the best known songs like Vītols’ ‘Gaismas pils’ or Dārziņš’ ‘Mēness starus stīgo’ (though, rather enjoyably, it does have Melngailis’ version, which is not as well known or frequently performed as Darziņš’ work). Though arguably less ‘popular’, it is quite refreshing to hear recordings of songs that might not be performed very often – as these reveal aspects and facets of the composers that the listener might not have been aware of.
The Latvian Radio Choir has once again proven itself as one of the most versatile ensembles in Latvia – showing expertise not just in modern music, but bringing new life to these classic works, many of which are over a century old. With conductor Sigvards Kļava at the helm, the choir once again shows their expertise and talents on Diena aust – a celebration of the classics of Latvian choir music from the most distinguished of Latvian composers, performed by one of the most distinguished Latvian choirs.
Latvian Radio Choir website: http://www.radiokoris.lv
Latvijas Radio Koris
Latvia: Latvijas koncerti, 2012
1. Diena aust – Jāzeps Vītols
2. Bērzs rudenī – Jāzeps Vītols
3. Saule austrumos – Jāzeps Vītols
4. Rožu lauks – Emilis Melngailis
5. Mēness starus stīgo – Emilis Melngailis
6. Spēlē jel, spēlmani – Emilis Melngailis
7. Ja uz Betlemi es ietu – Emīls Dārziņš
8. Ciānas bērni – Emīls Dārziņš
9. Sapņu tālumā – Emīls Dārziņš
10. Minjona – Emīls Dārziņš
11. Ziedoņa rīts – Alfrēds Kalniņš
12. Šūpļa dziesma – Alfrēds Kalniņš
13. Pavasara jausma – Pēteris Barisons
14. Zilie sapņu kalni – Pēteris Barisons
15. Mūzai – Pēteris Barisons
16. Kad nakts – Jānis Zālītis
17. Birztaliņa – Jānis Zālītis
18. Vasaras vakars – Jāzeps Mediņš
19. Jānīts kalnā; Jānīts lejā – Jānis Kalniņš
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