Ethnographic ensemble Vabaļis records local wedding songs in Latgalian

Latvian ethnographic ensemble Vabaļis, from the Vabole parish in southeastern Latvia (in the Latgale region), for more than fifteen years has been recording and popularizing the songs and music from the area. The group has recorded four albums, the most recent of which, Aj, moseņa… was released at the end of 2022, and reveals the richness of the local wedding tradition songs in the collection of eleven songs, sung in the Latgalian language.

The included songs are not just wedding songs, but related activities as well. A Latvian wedding tradition is the apdziedāšanās – songs in a playful, teasing style, often sung about the bride and groom and their respective families. There is a rich history of these kinds of songs in the Vabole region and that was one of the inspirations for recording this album, according to folklore researcher Iveta Tāle, who provided detailed notes on the album and process in the CD booklet. The apdziedāšanās style is presented in the song simply entitled ‘Apdziedāšanās’, where, for nearly eight minutes, all the women singers sing verses to playfully tease the men (who then also have the chance to respond in a similarly humorous way).

The members of Vabaļis are older women, and perform the songs in an authentic manner, and most of the recordings are either a cappella or accompanied by accordion. As these singers have been singing and performing for decades, the performances are genuine and evoke the atmosphere of a traditional Latgalian wedding.

The essay by folklore researcher Iveta Tāle included in the CD booklet includes several fascinating details about the creation of the album. For it to be even more authentic, the ensemble’s director, Artūrs Uškāns (also the leader of the folklore group Laimas Muzykanti) searched through folklore archives to find songs from the Vabole region, which helped rejuvenate a number of these melodies. Still, the CD booklet does not include song specific notes or lyrics, which may make deciphering the songs difficult for those without an excellent command of Latgalian.

With their enthusiasm and energy, Vabaļis have once again revealed rarely heard wedding tradition songs that might otherwise have been forgotten. The group’s dedication to shine light on lesser-known songs from the Latgale region has been one of the goals of the ensemble (for example, Vabaļis’ previous album – Labi dzeivōt kolchozā! – focused on songs sung on Soviet era kolkhoz or communal farms in Latgale). Partly traditional wedding celebration songs, partly a historical document, Aj, mōseņa… is a valuable addition to the Latgalian cultural heritage.

For further information, please watch this YouTube video (in Latvian and Latgalian) about the creation of the album, as well as this article from LSM (in Latvian) regarding the album.

Aj, mōseņa…


Lauska CD101, 2022

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.

Latvian pianist Dzintra Erliha to tour US in 2024

Distinguished Latvian pianist Dzintra Erliha returns to the United States in 2024 with multiple solo concerts, including a performance in the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City on February 9.

Erliha will also perform in Boston at the Berklee College of Music, at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, at Latvian centers in Boston and Cleveland, and will also give concerts in California.

The concerts will include performances of works recorded on her latest album – 2023’s Serena, released on the PRIMA Classic label, which features piano works by Latvian and American women composers. Concerts will also include works by Pēteris Vasks, Starr Parodi, Leanna Primiani, Esin Aydingoz, and others. The Carnegie Hall concert will also include the performance of Lolita Ritmanis’ Trio, and Erliha will be joined by violinist Una Tone and cellist Sasha Ono.

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

Daina Gross is editor of Latvians Online. An Australian-Latvian she is also a migration researcher at the University of Latvia, PhD from the University of Sussex, formerly a member of the board of the World Federation of Free Latvians, author and translator/ editor/ proofreader from Latvian into English of an eclectic mix of publications of different genres.

Latvian Radio Choir records Jānis Ivanovs’ Vocalises

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.

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

Jānis Ivanovs – Vocalises

Latvian Radio Choir, conductor Sigvards Kļava

LMIC/SKANi 144, 2022

Track listing:

1. Dzimtenes ainava

2. Rudens dziesma

3. Prelūdija

4. Gubu mākoņi

5. Zīmējums (Imants Zemzaris ed.)

6. Elēģija

7. Ziemas rīts

8. Jūsma

9. Lietainā dienā

10. Varoņu piemiņai

11. Migla

12. I Prelūdija

13. II Fūga

14. Zīmējums

15. Gubu mākoņi (Imants Zemzaris ed.)

16. Gājputni

17. Migla

18. Cantus Monodicus. Gloria

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.