Dzintra Erliha celebrates women composers of solo piano music on new album

Distinguished, award-winning Latvian pianist Dzintra Erliha has, throughout her career, premiered and championed the works of women composers. To celebrate the contribution of women composers to the field of solo piano music, Erliha recorded the album Serena, which is a collection of works by Latvian and American women composers, all of which were composed in the 21st century. The album was released in 2023 on the Prima Classic label.

The works collected on Serena are emotionally deep, plumbing the depths of the psyche and the soul, and this is exhibited on the uneasy, brittle Ballads Nos. 1 and 2 by American composer Sharon Farber. In the CD booklet, Farber notes that the work was inspired by a friend who was struggling with her mental health, and envisioned herself as a free spirit, flying above the earth. Erliha’s nuanced performance captures both the difficult struggle and inner turmoil, as well as the glimmers of hope, that are interwoven in Farber’s work.

Erliha displays her technical skill when performing the challenging ‘Variations’ by American composer Leanna Primiani, as the work makes sudden changes in tempo and mood, quiet and playful at one moment, then contemplative, and surging to a thunderous conclusion, and Erliha’s adept performance reveals the nuances and intricacies of this composition.

Many of the works on the album are dedicated to Erliha, including ‘Hope’ by Latvian American composer Lolita Ritmanis, who has won many awards for her music for television and film, and among her credits is the soundtrack to the Latvian film Dvēseļu putenis. ‘Hope’ is sonorous and meditative, and allows Erliha the opportunity to display her talents with melody, as she imbues Ritmanis’ sweeping work with a tonal richness.

Erliha frequently collaborates with Latvian American composer Dace Aperāne, and this close relationship has led to many fruitful works, including the three part ‘Pastorāles’ included on Serena. According to the CD booklet, Aperāne was inspired by works of art by the Latvian painter-symbolist Pēteris Krastiņš. Erliha performs the gentle, contemplative ‘New Moon’ with a light touch, giving the work an almost fragile atmosphere, while ‘Clouds’ is dramatic and mysterious, and ‘Small Forest’ is a tender, bucolic work, partly inspired by bird calls, and Erliha conjures an enveloping pastoral atmosphere with her graceful and delicate performance.

Nature also inspires Latvian composer Mārīte Dombrovska, and her work ‘Serena’ was born of time spent in the countryside. Though initially quiet and reserved, the work builds in intensity to a storm of turmoil, then quietly dissipates at the conclusion. The work seems to tell a story (the composer notes the ‘serena’ is a song of forbidden love performed by the troubadours of Provence), and Erliha brings forth the emotional depth of this work.

Latvian composer Sabīne Ķezbere’s notes that her composition ‘Divine Feminine’ “has nothing to do with feminism” but was more to create a “fragile, sensitive and at the same time strong musical character.”” The work is quiet and introspective, and, though the work is reserved, Erliha’s playing displays the inner strength and power in this composition.

The album concludes with the four part ‘Porcelain Sonata’ by Latvian composer Ilona Breģe. Inspired by the Riga Porcelain Factory, which was famous worldwide for the quality of its porcelain products. The vivacious and energetic ‘Morning Tea Cup’ leads to the more somber ‘Sugar Bowl without a Lid’, a work composed only for left hand, which results in a work full of rich bass notes, though imbued with a sense of loss. ‘Hand Painted Flower Vase’ is rich with colors and textures, while ‘Gilded Coffee Set for the Evening’ is resonant and resplendent, and Erliha’s playing is animated and bright, musically displaying the beauty and fragility of these porcelain inspired compositions.

Pianist Dzintra Erliha’s album Serena reveals a wide panorama of sounds and images created by many distinguished American and Latvian women composers. Each work has its own personality and story, and Erliha’s adept and skilled performances reveal the many emotional layers and sonic facets of all these diverse and varied works.

Dzintra Erliha will be performing in the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City on Friday, February 9, 2024.

For further information, please visit Dzintra Erliha’s website.


Dzintra Erliha

Prima Classic PRIMA020, 2023

Track listing:

Sharon Farber

  1. Ballad No.1
  2. Ballad No.2

Leanna Primiani

  • Variations

Lolita Ritmanis

  • Hope

Dace Aperāne


  •  New Moon
  • Clouds
  • Small Forest

Mārīte Dombrovska

  • Serena

Sabīne Ķezbere

  • Divine Feminine

Ilona Breģe

Porcelain Sonata

  1. Morning Tea Cup
  2. Sugar Bowl without a Lid
  3. Hand Painted Flower Vase
  4. Gilded Coffee Set for the Evening

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.

Parša and Osokins release album of Melngailis’ solo songs

When Latvian composer Emilis Melngailis died in 1954, he left behind a sizable contribution to Latvian music – choir arrangements, chamber music, and solo songs. Much of what Melngailis wrote and arranged was influenced by Latvian folk songs, particularly musical and harmony elements.

Though Melngailis’ choir works and arrangements might be better known, his solo songs, though much fewer in number than his choir works, are also treasures of Latvian music. Recognizing this, two distinguished Latvian talents – mezzo-soprano Ieva Parša and pianist Andrejs Osokins have recorded an album of Melngailis’ solo songs. Entitled i bērzs, i smilgas…, the album was released in 2022. In addition to works by Melngailis, the album also includes solo songs by modern Latvian composer Kristaps Pētersons.

Melngailis is considered a romantic composer, and this is evidenced by the emotionally deep and musically rich works presented on this collection. The poem by Rūdolfs Blaumanis ‘Nebij’ mēnesnīcas, nebij’ ziedu’ is somewhat unromantic – in that it is a more matter-of-fact expression of love. Lines like ‘Nekritu es tavā priekšā ceļos’ (I did not get down on one knee) and ‘Tad ēdu, dzēru, jo es visu rītu salcis biju’ (Then I ate and took a drink, for I had been hungry all morning) seemingly would not lend themselves to a romantic song, but the music of Melngailis reveals the inner beauty of this otherwise ordinary scene.

Composer Emīls Dārziņš was a contemporary of Melngailis, and though perhaps Dārziņš’ solo songs are more well known, Melngailis’ songs stand on equal footing. Both composers wrote music for the Blaumanis poem ‘Kā zagšus’, and the stealth of the title is accentuated by Parša’s tender and sonorous singing, backed by Osokins’ delicate piano performance.

Melngailis’ appreciation of Latvian folk texts is woven throughout the lively, celebratory ‘Ganiņš’, a song of spring and summer, and Parša gives an emotive and stirring performance. Melngailis’ works also have a childlike innocence and playfulness, such as the dreamy ‘Pasaciņa’ and the animated ‘Pār ceļu zaķītis pārskrēja’

The inclusion of recent works by Kaspars Pētersons is curious artistic choice, as Pētersons’ songs and compositions are dramatically different in style and sound than Melngailis’ works. The transition from the works from one composer to the other can be quite jarring, but perhaps that is the idea – while the listener is reminiscing with the music of Melngailis, reflecting on an earlier, perhaps simpler time, the music of Pētersons returns us to the present day, reminding us of the occasional harshness and hardships of today. This can be observed in the somber, even ominous ‘Music for Piano’, a solo performance by Osokins that allows the pianist to demonstrate his talent for expressive and dramatic piano performance.

Parša also provides a solo performance in Pētersons’ haunting ‘Smilgas’, which combines Parša whistling, singing and whispering, and the only text in the work is the works ‘smilgas’ (blades of grass) and ‘ilgas’ (longings).  Paršas performance gives the work an eerie atmosphere, perhaps to suggest the fragility of nature.

In the hands of two accomplished and talented musicians like mezzo-soprano Ieva Parša and pianist Andrejs Osokins, the songs of Emilis Melngailis and Kristaps Pētersons collected on i berzs, i smilgas… become picturesque and resplendent, vividly displaying colors and emotions. Parša’s rich voice and Osokins expressive playing combine to bring out the many facets and layers in these songs, adeptly bridging the century between these two composers.

For further information, please visit the Skani website.

i bērzs, i smilgas…

Ieva Parša – mezzo-soprano, Andrejs Osokins – piano

LMIC/SKANI 136, 2022

Track listing

Emilis Melngailis

1. Nebij mēnesnīcas, nebij ziedu

2. Kā zagšus

3. Ganiņš

4. Jaunā gaisma

5. Pirmais marts

Kristaps Pētersons

6. Mūzika klavierēm

Emilis Melngailis

7. Pasaciņa

8. Pār ceļu zaķītis pārskrēja

9. Uz rīta pusi

10. Zeltītas lapas

Kristaps Pētersons

11. Dziesma ar Eduarda Veidenbauma dzeju

Emilis Melngailis

12. Man mirdzēja zvaigzne

13. Kā diena bez saules

14. Vientulība no cikla klavierēm Mazie meti

Kristaps Pētersons

15. Smilgas

Emilis Melngailis

16. Rauduves balss

17. Bērzs i varavīksna

18. Divas mazas rociņas

19. Alpu kvēles

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.

Liepāja SO album features music inspired by Latvian nature

Throughout the years, many superlatives have been used to describe nature and the natural objects in Latvia. Latvian nature has inspired artists and art of all kinds – paintings, stories, poems, and also many pieces of music.

Recognizing this, the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Guntis Kuzma, selected several symphonic works that were, directly or indirectly, inspired by Latvian nature. The works selected are from throughout the history of Latvian symphonic music (nearly a century and a half) and were released in 2022 on the album Flowering Jasmine (or Plaukstošais jasmīns).

The collection spotlights both well-known names and works by composers that are heard less often these days, presenting a variety of styles, displaying some of the trends and evolution of Latvian symphonic music over the last century. Most of the works included here, regardless of when they were written, could be characterized as being in a romantic (or romantic inspired) style – even though some of the works were written a century apart, the collection flows almost naturally – no jarring or harsh selections here.

Ādolfs Skulte’s celebratory ‘Uvertīra’ (or ‘Overture’) opens this collection. Full of sweeping orchestra flourishes and almost playful melodies, the work exhibits Skulte’s mastery of the symphonic form (he has nine symphonies, among many other symphonic works, to his credit).

No Latvian symphonic music compilation would be complete without a selection from perhaps Latvia’s greatest symphonist – Jānis Ivanovs. On Flowering Jasmine, that is ‘Varavīksne’ (Rainbow). Ivanovs often was inspired by nature (particularly the nature of the Latgale region), and often looked for the relationships between colors and sounds, which is displayed brightly in this work.

Alfrēds Kalniņš’ ‘Pie Staburaga’ is a tribute to the limestone cliff on the Daugava River. Written before the sinking of the cliff (in 1966, when building the Pļaviņas hydroelectric plant, that section of the river was flooded, leaving Staburags underwater), the reverent work paints a dramatic picture of the cliff, which was not just a major natural Latvian monument, but a place steeped in mysticism and folklore.

The works of Georgs Pelēcis have become popular throughout the world, perhaps due to the composer’s deceptively simple style, skill with melody, and, most of all, the pure beauty of his music. The work ‘Plaukstošais jasmīns’ with its tender, almost fragile string melodies, is enhanced by the haunting melody of the vibraphone, played here by Marta Kauliņa.

The collection also includes works by Jānis Porietis (the melancholic, affecting ‘Rīts’), Jānis Ķepītis (the reserved, gently flowing ‘Liriskā balāde’), Ādolfs Ābele (‘Meditācija’ – full of introspection and richly emotional), Agris Engelmanis (‘Zīmējums sēpijas tonī’  – pulsating and in a state of near constant motion), and Ēriks Ešenvalds (‘Noktirne’ – mysterious and intriguing, and inspired, like many of his works, by the poet Sara Teasdale, featuring the orchestra whispering lines from her poem ‘Twilight’).

The CD booklet offers not just details on the compositions, but also offers interesting, even humorous anecdotes and details about the composers themselves. For example, Ādolfs Skulte was an adept repairman, and was able to fix the gearbox on his Volga car himself, Jānis Ķepītis was also a skilled beekeeper, and that Ādolfs Ābele never used an ashtray when he smoked (which regularly resulted in ash on both his shirts and his piano).

Revealing not just the richness of Latvian nature, but also the richness of Latvian symphonic music, the collection of nine symphonic poems and miniatures found on Flowering Jasmine presents works from more than a century of Latvian music. Vividly performed by the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra and conductor Guntis Kuzma, this collection offers both a broad, engaging panorama of music and an enveloping, absorbing journey through the nature of Latvia.

For further information, please visit the Skani website and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra website.

Flowering Jasmine

Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, conductor Guntis Kuzma

LMIC/SKANI 127, 2022

Track listing:

1. Ādolfs SKULTE Uvertīra / Ouverture

2. Jānis IVANOVS Varavīksne / Rainbow

3. Alfrēds KALNIŅŠ Pie Staburaga / At Staburags

4. Georgs PELĒCIS Plaukstošais jasmīns / Flowering Jasmine

5. Jānis PORIETIS Rīts / Morning

6. Jānis ĶEPĪTIS Liriska balāde / Lyrical Ballad

7. Ādolfs ĀBELE Meditācija (Vientulībā) / Meditation (In Solitude)

8. Agris ENGELMANIS Zīmējums sēpijas tonī / Illustration in Sepia

9. Ēriks EŠENVALDS (1977) Noktirne / Nocturne

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.