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Daina Gross is editor of Latvians Online. An Australian-Latvian she is also a migration researcher at the University of Latvia, PhD candidate, formerly a member of the board of the World Federation of Free Latvians, an author and translator into English of various books on industrial history in Latvia.

New Saucējas album celebrates the beauty of Latvian nature and folksongs

The thousands of Latvian folk songs cover just about every imaginable theme. All aspects of life, all the possible events in a year, one can find a song for every moment. A recurring theme in folk songs is nature – whether appreciating the beauty of the birds, rivers, hills, and many other natural features, or songs about working outside, plowing fields and sowing seeds. Many songs are meant to be sung outdoors, and there is an extensive tradition of outdoor singing, particularly around the time of Jāni (Midsummer).

With the goal of recreating the atmosphere and sound of singing outdoors, the traditional folk ensemble Saucējas, a group of ten women led by Iveta Tāle, undertook one of the most ambitious recent folk music projects – to perform and record songs entirely outdoors. The project – entitled ‘Dziedāšāna dabas akustiskajā telpā’ or ‘Traditional Singing in Nature’s Acoustic Environment’ – resulted in the two CD, 60 song collection entitled Dabā, released in 2021.

Singing (as well as recording) outdoors brings its own unique challenges. However, the ten powerful voices of the Saucējas are more than up to this challenge, and, over the course of sixty songs (recorded in many different locations throughout Latvia), the group leads the listener on a journey throughout both the grandeur of nature, as well as all the seasons in Latvia.

To create an immersive, authentic performance, the group recorded not just the voices, but all background sounds as well, particularly bird songs. ‘Ar dziesmiņu laukā gāju’ begins with birds chirping, while in ‘Skaņu balsini palaidu’ it almost seems like the singers are in the background, more distant, while the birds are in the foreground. This adds to the atmosphere, almost like the listener is on top of one hill, while the singers are on the top of another. And it is not just songbirds – ‘Ai dzeltena linu druva’ has what sounds like turkeys and chickens in the background, which would not be surprising, as the song was recorded at the farmyard ‘Lazdas’.

A major event in the Latvian calendar is the midsummer celebration of Jāņi, and there is a series of songs on the album for this time of year, and several of them were recorded at the ‘Ruķeli’ farmstead, and, to add to the atmosphere, the singers were recorded around a bonfire. In songs like ‘Es atradu siera dūci’, one clearly hears crickets chirping, which adds to the nighttime atmosphere.

Even when performing and recording outdoors, there are still plenty of opportunities for harmonies to be heard, such as in ‘Ik vakara dziedāt gāju’ and ‘Aiz upītes ūzulini’, and though much of the singing is powerful, and necessarily loud, there are still many moments of tenderness and gentleness, such as ‘Kiukoj, uoru dzagiuzeite’ and ‘Es pazinu bārainīti’.

Of course, when recording outside, one loses a certain amount of clarity in the voices. For example, in the often discordant ‘Nakūko(i), dzaguzīte / Aiz Daugavas melni meži’, a song of spring, each singer seems to sing in her own tempo, and the result is a bit harsh and difficult to understand at times, but that adds to the authenticity of this project.

The two CDs come packaged with a book, which provides extensive detail on the songs included on the album, as well as the recording process. Songs were recorded in fourteen different locations throughout Latvia, including by lakes, hillforts, forests, even a bog. The singers even had to start singing very early in the morning for some of the recordings, and, to ensure no unexpected sounds, they even checked airplane flight paths to make sure no planes were going to fly over during their recording sessions. One of the recording engineers, Gatis Gaujenieks, also offers insights into the recording process, including fascinating details such as to how the microphones were placed, and which specific microphones were used.

Over two CDs and sixty songs, Dabā celebrates the beauty of both Latvian nature and Latvian folk songs. An immersive experience, listening to the album is like being in the Latvian countryside, and hearing singing both nearby and in the distance. The singers of Saucējas blend with the sounds of nature, creating an authentic, pastoral listening experience.

For further information, please visit the Saucējas Facebook page

Dabā

Saucējas

Lauska CD093, 2021

Track listing:

CD 1

  1. Ar dziesmiņu laukā gāju
  2. Aiz Daugavas melni meži
  3. Puri, puri, meži, meži / Ganiņš gana ceļmalā(i) / Bitīt, tavu šuvumiņu
  4. Ūsi, ūsi, kod lapuosi
  5. Aiz upītes ūzulini
  6. Nakūko(i), dzaguzīte
  7. Es dziedāju, gavilēju / Aiz upītes kalniņā(i) / Ē, citi gani!
  8. Dziediet, meitas, vokorā
  9. Es pazinu bārainīti
  10. Kiukoj, uoru dzagiuzeite
  11. Bitīt, tavu šuvumiņu
  12. Nakūko(i), dzaguzīte / Aiz Daugavas melni meži
  13. Ganiņš gana ceļmalā(i)
  14. Kiukoj, uora zagiuzīte
  15. Iz pīguli, iz pīguli
  16. Puri, puri, meži meži / Bitīt, tavu šuvumiņu
  17. Viņpus upes ozoliņi
  18. Kiukoj dzagiuze, i dzīd laksteigola
  19. Ai, jel manu skaņu balsu / Nākat, puiši, nelepojat / Tumsīnāji, naksnīnāji
  20. Sīneņu guoju kasdama
  21. Ai ganiņi, nedzeniet / Tad talka diža, talka maza / Gosniņ, mana raibulīte
  22. Gotiņ, gotiņ!
  23. Oi, egle, egle
  24. Ūgu, ūgu, sēņu, sēņu
  25. Oi, egle, egle

CD 2

  1. Kas visiem(i) bāriņiemi
  2. Kā tā māva raibuliņa / Ko gavilē, tautu meit
  3. Ik vakara dziedāt gāju
  4. Skaņu balsini palaidu
  5. Pļaunit, bruoļi, pūrva pļovas
  6. Aiz upeitys meitys dzīd(i)
  7. Tak upeite pret upeiti
  8. Ai ganiņi, nedzeniet / Gosniņ, mana raibulīte
  9. Gotiņ, mana raibaliņa
  10. Jauna gāju tautīnās(i)
  11. Kas gribēja baltaitiņu
  12. Vokars īti, vokars īti
  13. Elo, paelo!
  14. Ganiņš gana ceļmalā(i) / Ar dziesmiņu laukā gāju
  15. Klusiņām(i) izganiju
  16. Oruojeņi, acātuoji
  17. Kas Jānīti ieleiguoja
  18. Jāņi nāca, Jāņi nāca
  19. Es atradu siera dūci
  20. Zīdi, zīdi, lynu druva
  21. Ē, citi gani!
  22. Dyuce bite, kamaneite
  23. Ēluja, ēlu!
  24. Ko gavilē, tautu meit’
  25. Bolta eju, bolta taku
  26. Sīneņu guoju kasdama
  27. Man patika mīžu druva
  28. Kur, Jumeiti, tu gulieji
  29. Tolka lila, tolka moza
  30. Ai dzeltena linu druva
  31. Atīt zūses klaiguodamas
  32. Nākat, puiši, nelepojat
  33. Dziedātāju māsu devu
  34. Skaņi dziedu, gavilēju
  35. Gavil’ pieci, gavil’ seši / Rāmi, rāmi es dziedāju

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.

New album spotlights contribution by organ music composer Indra Riše

Latvian composer Indra Riše has, throughout her extensive career, made a significant contribution to Latvian academic music. Over many decades, her works have been performed throughout the world. She composes in many different genres – chamber works, solo works, choir music, and she has composed a number of organ works.

It is Riše’s organ works that are the subject of the album Trumpets of Angels, released in 2021. Collecting works recorded over a fifteen-year period, the album spotlights Riše’s notable contribution to the field of organ music.

Riše’s primary collaborator throughout the years has been organist Ligita Sneibe, a relationship that has been ongoing for many decades. The work ‘Mijiedarbība’ (or ‘Interaction’), the earliest recording on the album (from 2000), features both Ligita Sneibe as well as flutist Imants Sneibis. The ‘interaction’ is between the organ and the flute, the work is a kind of a dialogue between the two instruments. A range of emotions is displayed throughout the nearly sixteen-minute work, and Riše weaves together not just the sounds of the instruments, but also allows each instrument to exhibit a unique personality in this expressive work.

The celebratory, resplendent ‘Eņģeļu taures’ (or ‘Trumpets of Angels’), also featuring Sneibe on organ, is a work dedicated to a deceased friend of Riše’s, and is given a vivid, shimmering performance by Sneibe. Sneibe is joined by flutist Anete Toča on the mystical, mysterious ‘Attālumi’ (or ‘Distances’). The work is divided into two sections, with the dreamy first section then transforming into an almost playful second section, with Toča’s flute giving the work an ethereal atmosphere.

Riše also combines the sound of the organ with vocals on the song cycle ‘Dziesmas par Laimi’, using poetry by the Latvian poet Rainis. On this song cycle, the organ is played by Ilona Birģele, and she is joined by soprano Inga Šļubovska-Kancēviča. The cycle, made up of five brief songs, is full of intensity and passion, as Riše’s composition vividly displays the emotions of these songs of happiness by Rainis. Šļubovska-Kancēviča’s soaring soprano vocals make for a natural fit for these texts, particularly in the ode to the sun in ‘Ar atplestām rokām’, and the aching longing of ‘Melnā apsega’.

‘Uguns rituāls’ (or ‘Fire Ritual’) is inspired by ancient rituals of the Baltic peoples and conjures an appropriately mystical atmosphere. As the composer notes in the CD booklet, the Baltic people would have fire rituals four times a year to mark the solstices and equinoxes. The organ, performed by Ligita Sneibe, makes for an enveloping listening experience, particularly in the section ‘Stihiju piesaukšana un ziedošana’, a work about evocation of the gods and sacrifice, which is at times reverent, at times ominous.

The CD booklet contains an extensive interview with the composer by Dāvis Eņģelis, covering many topics, including the composer’s influences and inspirations. One would have liked to hear more about the compositions themselves, but Riša does provide a few brief notes on each work in the booklet as well.

Indra Riše has established herself as one of the premiere composers in Latvia today, and this collection confirms her stature as a leading composer of organ works. Trumpets of Angels, which features the skills of many notable Latvian musicians and interpreters, also shows the many facets of the sound of the organ, confirming that the organ can still be relevant in modern music.

For further information, please visit Indra Riše’s website and the Skani website.

Trumpets of Angels

Indra Riše

LMIC/SKANi 090, 2021

Track listing:

  1. Eņģeļu taures

Attālumi

  • I
  • II

 Dziesmas par Laimi

  • Skūpsta ticība
  • Prieka ceļš
  • Smaidi mutē
  • Melnā apsega
  • Ar atplestām rokām

 Saules apmirdzētie

  • Laimīgie
  • Trauksme
  1. Mijiedarbība

 Uguns rituāls

  1. Pulcēšanās svētvietā
  2. Stihiju piesaukšana un ziedošana
  3. Aplī iešana

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.