Latvian composer Alfrēds Kalniņš (1879–1951), was a prolific composer and active musician, composing more than 900 works in his lifetime. His best known work is the opera Baņuta (the first opera to have a libretto in Latvian), and for his work in this field he is considered to be the founder of Latvian national opera.
Kalniņš also composed extensively for solo piano. Many of his piano works are brief miniatures, but in their brevity they display his many influences and world experiences. Kalniņš travelled extensively, studying in St. Petersburg, worked in Estonia, and also spent six years in New York as a choir conductor. Recognizing the riches in Kalniņš’ piano compositions, pianist Toms Ostrovskis recorded an album of them, entitled Moments Musicaux (Musical Moments) which was released in 2018 by the Latvian national record label Skani.
The album begins with a collection of works simply entitled ‘Septiņi skaņdarbi’ (or Seven Pieces), composed between 1913 and 1915. From the somber, yet tender ‘Pie drauga kapa’ (At a Friend’s Grave – dedicated to composer Emīls Dārziņš), to the rousing and energetic ‘Albuma lapiņa’ (Album Leaf) and the triumphant and exuberant fourth Musical Moment, dedicated to poet Rainis, Ostrovskis reveals the many nuances and details within Kalniņš’ works.
Alfrēds Kalniņš’ ‘Septiņas poēmas’ (Seven Poems), composed between 1917 and 1918, musically present the composer’s state of mind during these years of war, particularly the stormy second Poem, which Ostrovskis presents with full dramatic turmoil. However, this tempest is balanced by the melodic third Poem, perhaps indicating a peaceful lull during those turbulent times. The reflective and appropriately poetic seventh Poem brings this cycle to a gentle close, almost like a lullaby.
Kalniņš remained in Latvia after the end of World War II, and continued to compose, such as the ‘Četri kapričeto’ (Four Capriccietti), written between 1946 and 1949. These works, though gathered together, are all quite distinctive and do not easily fit together in a programmatic sense. From the dance like ‘Vivo’ and the changing moods of ‘Piacevole’ and the slightly tense ‘Allegro moderato’, Ostrovskis provides engaging interpretations of these diverse compositions.
The album also contains some of Kalniņš’ compositions for children in a collection entitled ‘Trīs gabaliņi albumam “Jaunībai”’ (Three Small Pieces for the Album “For Youth”). The pastoral and rapid ‘Pie strauta’ (By a Brook) and the playful ‘Dziesmiņa’ (Little Song) are then followed by ‘Vecais koklētājs’ (The Old Kokle Player) where Ostrovskis imitates the sound of a Latvian kokle on the piano, and features brief musical quotes from Latvian folk songs.
Emīls Dārziņš once remarked that Alfrēds Kalniņš’ ‘developed a sincere wish to … find his own, unique but very Latvian musical expression’ and this is reflected throughout the twenty-one piano compositions included on Moments Musicaux. Though most are under three minutes in length, they still contain a broad world of emotions painted with a varied palette of colors. Pianist Toms Ostrovskis vividly presents these musical moments, crafting an immersive musical performance that present the many facets of Kalniņš’ compositional style. Ostrovskis, who is a member of the piano department at the Latvian Academy of Music, also wrote all of the liner notes for the CD booklet, and these reveal Ostrovskis’ deep personal connection with and understanding of Kalniņš’ piano music. Kalniņš did achieve his desire to find his own Latvian musical expression, and this record confirms Alfrēds Kalniņš’ significant contribution to Latvian piano music.
Alfrēds Kalniņš – Moments Musicaux
Toms Ostrovskis, Piano
Septiņi skaņdarbi / Seven Pieces
1. Pie drauga kapa – Emīla Dārziņa piemiņai – Andantino, mesto
2. Albuma lapiņa – Augustam Dombrovska kungam – Con brio, jubiloso
3. Rudeņa pievakarē – Lugubre
4. Muzikāls moments – Allegretto
5. Muzikāls moments – Moderato, semplice
6. Muzikāls moments – Allegro moderato
7. Muzikāls moments – Rainim uz 30.VIII. 1915
Septiņas poēmas / Seven Poems
9. Agitato ed appassionato
11. In modo di valse lente
Četri kapričeto / Four Capriccietti
18. Allegro moderato, ma risoluto
Trīs gabaliņi albumam “Jaunībai” / Three Small Pieces for the Album “For the Youth”
20. Pie strauta
21. Vecais koklētājs