Gaudeamus’ refreshing take on Prauliņš’ song cycle “Pagānu gadagrāmata”

Composer Uģis Prauliņš has often melded together many different styles and sounds in his works, balancing modern and ancient elements, like on his song cycle Odi et Amo, which mixed synthesizer music with Latin poetry. Prauliņš also has combined modern sounds with Latvian folk songs, such as on his 1999 song cycle Pagānu gadagrāmata (or ‘Pagan Yearbook’). Originally recorded with members of the post folk ensemble Iļģi, the collection was meant to portray a Latvian year in song, from the thaw of the spring to the cold of the winter and the end of the year. Combining Latvian folk songs, original music, and some more recent texts, the album and its arrangements provided for an engrossing journey through the seasons in Latvia.

After almost twenty years, the idea arose to revisit the song cycle. The original recording often featured synthesized male voices, so perhaps that inspired Prauliņš to record a new version with an actual men’s choir – Gaudeamus. Along with a number of well-known Latvian musicians and soloists, a new version of Pagānu gadagrāmata was released in 2018. The song cycle is mostly unchanged, with a few new songs added in, but the presence of the choir and a new set of a performers give this new version additional layers and colors.

A major element of the original was the presence of members Iļģi and singers Ilga Reizniece and Māris Muktupāvels, and the new version also includes similar folk singing specialists, and features singers Asnate Rancāne and Lauma Bērza, both from the folk ensemble Tautumeitas. Rancāne’s and Bērza’s authentic singing is an integral aspect of the album, on such songs like the tragic ‘Balādīte’, based on a poem by Ojārs Vācietis, a heartbreaking song of a young man who is executed by the guards of the local lord. ‘Es gulu gulu’, a similarly sad and tender folk song about a young woman who dreams about her lover leaving her, is given an appropriately dreamy and haunting interpretation by the singers and instrumental ensemble.

Though Gaudeamus do have a large role on the album, one does occasionally wish that there were more choir harmonies to be heard, as the men in the choir often sing in unison, or often simply provide background vocalizes. Still, on songs like the thunderous ‘Ar vilciņu Rīgā braucu’ (a song not in the original cycle), the powerful voices of the choir come together to make for a brawny performance – though some may find that this song with its drums and distorted electric guitar might not fully flow together with the rest of the songs. The choir’s conductor and vocalist Ivars Cinkuss also lends his robust and vigorous voice throughout the album, notably on ‘Man jāsteidzas’, a forceful and energetic performance which is then balanced by the voices of Rancāne and Bērza.

The song collection concludes in winter, with the rousing winter solstice song ‘Kaķeišami tāvs nūmyra’, which is then followed by the quiet, meditative ‘Vecgada vakars’, an instrumental about New Year’s Eve, an appropriate conclusion with a rather sudden ending that brings the year to a close, but foretells of a new year to come.

This release of Pagānu gadagrāmata provides for a refreshing new take on the song cycle. The men’s voices add both power and nuance to many of the performances, while the instrumentalists give the collection a more organic feel, compared to the often synth-heavy original. Uģis Prauliņš, along with Gaudeamus, have created a new version of this collection that maintains the spirit of the original, but still adds new dimensions with the sound and performance of the men’s choir. providing an added vitality to the music as the songs bring the listener through the Latvian calendar year.

For further information, please visit the choir Gaudeamus website and Uģis Prauliņš’ website

Gaudeamus

Pagānu gadagrāmata

Lauska, CD080, 2018

Track listing:

  1. Zaļa zied zālīte
  2. Atiti leldīna
  3. Pirmais pērkons
  4. Balādīte
  5. Meitas(e) gula ābolāje
  6. Ganiņš biju
  7. Es gulu gulu
  8. Iesēju liniņus
  9. Baltaitiņa
  10. Saucējs sauc aiz upītes
  11. Aiz kalniņa
  12. Sauleite lēce
  13. Tas vējiņš pūta / Nāk rudentiņis
  14. Kaķeišami tāvs nūmyra
  15. Vecgada vakars

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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