Double CD features organist Aigars Reinis’ rendition of music by Alfrēds Kalniņš

Early 20th century Latvian composer Alfrēds Kalniņš (1879–1951) was one of the founding fathers of Latvian classical music. He is the composer of Baņuta, considered to be the first Latvian opera, as well as several choral songs and solo songs.

Kalniņš was also a proficient organist and was quite possibly the most famous concert organist in Latvia during his time. Such was his talent and renown that he had the opportunity to spend many years in the late 1920s and early 1930s in New York City, where he also worked and performed.

Consequently, among Kalniņš’ many contributions to Latvian classical music are his broad and extensive list of compositions for the organ. Recognizing his contribution to this field, the Latvian national record label Skani release a 2 CD collection of Kalniņš’ organ music in 2023, simply entitled Ērģeļmūzika (Organ Music), performed by distinguished Latvian organist Aigars Reinis on the world famous Rīga Cathedral organ.

The opera Baņuta is Kalniņš’ magnum opus, and this collection includes the author’s organ transcriptions of two pieces from the opera – “Svinīgs ievads” (The Stately Overture) and “Sēru maršs” (Funeral March). The overture is resplendent and celebratory, while the march is tragic and somber, and Reinis adeptly moves between these sharply contrasting moods, bringing forth the needed emotional weight in his performance.

Kalniņš time in New York City was a particularly enriching experience and the many artists he met and collaborated with there (including virtuoso organist Samuel Baldwin) inspired several compositions. The CD booklet includes a humorous note about how Kalniņš would take a portable table to Central Park and compose there. Among the works composed there were “Introduzione et Allegro”, a dramatic and lyrical work that concludes in a flurry of activity, perhaps influenced by the constant motion of the city. This contrasts with another work of that time, “Klostera idille” (Cloister Idyll), a work with a sacred mood, contemplative and reflective.

Among Kalniņš’ contemporaries was perhaps the most significant composer of the era of Latvia’s first independence – Jāzeps Vītols. During World War II, Vītols went into exile in Germany, while Kalniņš remained in Latvia during the Soviet occupation and became the rector of the Latvian State Conservatory. As one of his final compositions, Kalniņš composed a series of variations on a theme by Jāzeps Vītols. As musicologist Arnolds Klotiņš explains in the CD booklet, this was an especially provocative move by Kalniņš, as not only was Vītols considered to be persona non grata by the Soviet authorities, Kalniņš took it a step further by using a sacred theme by Vītols – “Jēzu, saule mana” (Jesus, my Sun) – a pointed message to the atheistic communist regime. This defiant gesture at the close of his career and life reinforced Kalniņš’ reputation as a truly Latvian composer. The variations, full of reverence for his colleague, have a celebratory and joyful mood about them, and organist Reinis skillfully uses the expansive sounds of the organ of the Riga Cathedral to imbue the performance with a rich resonance.

Over these two CDs of organ music, the listener will appreciate not just Alfrēds Kalniņš’ compositional skill, but also his significant contribution to the development of the Latvian organ music repertoire. Kalniņš wove together the traditions of the 19th century (and earlier) with the more modern approaches of the early 20th century to create a collection of works that provided a solid foundation for Latvian music in the decades beyond. Organist Aigars Reinis, using the full capabilities and sonic range of the organ of the Riga Cathedral, provides lush and resonant performances of these works, reaffirming Kalniņš’ place as one of the great Latvian composers.

For further information, please visit the Skani website.

Alfrēds Kalniņš – Ērģeļmūzika

Aigars Reinis, organ

LMIC/SKANI 149, 2023

Track listing:

CD 1

1. Fantāzija

2. Pastorāle nr. 1

3. Introduzione et Allegro

4. Cloister Idyll

5. Scherzo

6. Christmas Lullaby

7. Kāzu maršs

8. Procesija

9. Variācijas par Jāņa Kalniņa tēmu

CD 2

1. Agitato

2. Svētvakars

3. Svinīgs ievads no operas Baņuta

4. Sēru maršs no operas Baņuta

5. Prelūdija

6. Pastorāle nr. 2

7. Variācijas par Jāzepa Vītola tēmu

8. Himna manai dzimtajai zemei

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.

Thunderous drum and bagpipe ensemble Auļi celebrate 20 years with recent release

Over the past two decades, drum and bagpipe ensemble Auļi have become one of the best known and most visible musical groups from Latvia. Their energetic, even thunderous, recordings and live performances have attracted listeners from all over the world.

To celebrate their twentieth birthday in 2023, Auļi released a best of compilation entitled Deviņvīru spēks, which translates literally to ‘strength of nine men’, but is also the Latvian name for the mullein plant (Verbascum Thapsus), used in a number of Latvian folk remedies. The collection includes eighteen tracks from throughout their history.

This is Auļi’s second ‘best of’ compilation, the first one being Dižducis, released in 2013 to celebrate their first decade.

Latvian folk traditions and beliefs have inspired many of Auļi’s songs, and the group has expanded their sound throughout the years with new kinds of drums and bagpipes, to further diversify their sound palette. They have released albums with songs inspired by the Jāņi, or Midsummer, festival such as ‘Līgo lauki, līgo pļavas’, and songs about the ķekatas (mummery) tradition, such as ‘Laid, māmiņa, istabā’.

Auļi have also extensively collaborated with not just other Latvian musicians, but with many international musicians, and many of the tracks on Deviņvīru spēks are such collaborations. From Latvia, Auļi have performed with the group Tautumeitas on the song ‘Dzied’ papriekšu, brāļa māsa’, and assembled a large group that included Suitu sievas, Vilkači, Tarkšķi and others, to perform the song ‘Ozoliņi’.

Auļi have also worked with many artists worldwide, such as ‘Tāltālu’ with singer Kilema from Madagascar, ‘Maijodler’ with yodeler Albin Paulus, and ‘Orbina’ with Sami joik singer Kai Somby. One of their most popular songs (whose video has reached more than seven million views) is ‘Hunnu Guren’, performed with Mongolian throat singer Batzorig Vaanchig.

The CD booklet includes some brief biographical notes and a few words about every Auļi album, and the notes are in both Latvian and English.

For further information, please visit the Auļi website.

Auļi – Deviņvīru spēks

Lauska CD102, 2023

Track listing:

  1. Sūda dziesma
  2. Auļos…
  3. Liftilugu
  4. Ozols
  5. Diņķis
  6. Tāltālu
  7. Metens
  8. Dzied’ papriekšu, brāļa māsa
  9. Maijodler
  10. Orbina
  11. Hunnu Guren
  12. Alšvangas dūdu meldiņš
  13. Ozoliņi
  14. Jūra
  15. Perkons brauca pār debesi
  16. Līgo lauki, līgo pļavas
  17. Laid, māmiņa, istabā
  18. Man bij’ kaltis kumeliņis

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.

10th folk compilation Sviests includes collaborations between Latvia and Ukraine

A tradition now two decades in the making, the Latvian folk music label Lauska releases a compilation of new folk and folk inspired recordings every two years. The latest entry – Sviests 10 – was released in 2023 and contains nineteen new recordings.

The Sviests series have always spotlighted the broad universe of Latvian folk music – from more traditional interpretations to modern arrangements. The series also balances recordings by well-known and established artists with tracks by new artists and ensembles.

Familiar names on this collection include folk group Laiksne and their song ‘Ai, jūs puiši’. Sviests 10 also includes ‘Trejdeviņi’ from Rasa, an ensemble originally founded in the 1980s and features well-known names from Latvian folk music like Rūta and Valdis Muktupāvels. Rasa had been dormant for many decades, and reunited recently to record a few new songs. The new ensemble A.I.I.Z. and their song ‘Vīri, vīri!’ features established names like veteran folk singer Zane Šmite and guitarist Ilze Grunte.

Newer names and sounds on Sviests 10 include Krāce, from the city of Krustpils, an ensemble that focuses on music from the Sēlija region of Latvia, and their contribution is ‘Līvanu polka’. Multi-instrumentalist Ivars Štubis provides the ambient folk ‘Aiz Daugavas’. All the Baltic nations are represented in the group The Baltic Sisters and friends on their song ‘Saulala’. Ukrainian singer and bandurist Darja Leleko joins cellist Kārlis Auzāns in a performance of the Latvian folk song ‘Tumša nakte’.

The CD booklet includes notes on all the artists and songs, and also notes that many of the songs and performances were influenced by the brutal Russian war on Ukraine. However, the war led to many cultural collaborations between Latvia and Ukraine, including the Ukrainian folksong ‘Kalina Malina’ performed by Latvian and Ukrainian singers united in the ensemble ‘Žurba’.

For more information, please visit the Lauska website.

Track listing:

  1. Tumša nakte – Darja Leleko, Karlis Auzans
  2. Saulīt’ vēlu vakarā – Adriāna Marta Gotlube
  3. Gaisma ausa, saule lēca – Ejueju
  4. Oldfolkdance – Aleksandrs Maijers
  5. Vīri, vīri! – A.I.I.Z.
  6. Trejdeviņi – Rasa
  7. Saulala – The Baltic Sisters, Roger Sans Guimerà, David Sitges-Sardà
  8. Jaunskungs uzkāpj augstus kalnus – MM Orķestris, Suitu sievas, Suitu vīri, Suitu dūdenieki
  9. Tumba – Saucejas
  10. Līvānu polka – Krāce
  11. Mella cūka peld pār jūru – Ogas
  12. Še dziesmiņu darināt – Garataka
  13. Seši jauni bandinīki – Dyrbyni
  14. Ai, jūs puiši – Laiksne
  15. Aiz Daugavas – Ivars Štubis
  16. Tumša tautu istabiņa – Lans
  17. Kus sa jūokšõd, unnõ īrki – Elīna Ose, Latvīte Cirse
  18. Svētais koks – Līgas pH3
  19. Kalina Malina – Vira un latviešu dziedošā apvienība Žurba

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.