Latvian composer Imants Kalniņš, throughout his long career, has composed many beloved songs and melodies. Though perhaps slightly better known for his popular songs, performed by groups like Menuets and Turaidas roze, many of his symphonic works have had enduring appeal and remain in the public consciousness. His 4th symphony, with its rock inspired rhythms and arrangement, has long been a defining work in Latvian academic music.
Beyond his 4th symphony, Kalniņš has composed many noteworthy and memorable symphonic works. Recognizing this, the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, along with conductor Atvars Lakstīgala, as well as guest conductor Māris Sirmais, recorded a number of Kalniņš’ orchestral works, both past and recent compositions. The two disc collection, simply entitled Imants Kalniņš, was released in 2018 by the Latvian national music label Skani as part of their Latvian Centenary collection. The album includes Kalniņš’ 5th and 7th symphonies, his Oboe Concerto, and the orchestral work entitled ‘Santa Cruz’.
‘Santa Cruz’, conducted by Māris Sirmais, was composed in 2015 and includes many of the elements that have endeared Kalniņš to many listeners. This brief orchestra miniature, with its gently flowing melody in the sounds of the plucked strings, manifests a musical landscape with picturesque scenery.
Kalniņš has also composed for theater and film, and many of the dramatic elements from those mediums can be heard in his 5th symphony, composed in 1979. The first movement is full of tension, with the strings in constant motion, and then this tension transitions to a slower, more ominous theme, before the agitation returns towards the end, with pointed horn bursts to accentuate the drama. The work comes to a harmonious end in the fourth movement, with expands to a triumphant, celebratory theme, punctuated with cymbal crashes and a percussive rhythm, and then a slow fade continues all the way to the end of the work, and the somber melody dissipates into silence. Conductor Lakstīgala accentuates the dramatic in this work to great effect, creating a truly cinematic interpretation of Kalniņš’ composition.
The Oboe concerto, composed in 2012, is one of Kalniņš more playful and joyful works. This performance features oboist Pēteris Endzelis, and his adept and vivid interpretation results in a memorable rendition of this composition. The first movement, with its almost dainty melody, presents a mystical song of conjuring, which may remind some of Kalniņš’ popular music, which often had mystical and mythological lyrical themes. The calm and hopeful beginning of the second movement gives way to Kalniņš’ trademark undulating strings, setting the stage for the dance that begins the final movement, which ends on a reassuringly hopeful note.
Kalniņš’ most recent symphony, his seventh, was composed in 2015, has sentimental and nostalgic elements. Pastoral elements fill the first movement, perhaps suggesting a rural landscape of childhood. However, there are still elements of foreboding throughout the work, as things reach a climax in the third movement, where elements of conflict appear in the horns and percussion, almost like an alarm. The military-like beginning of the final movement, with its deliberate rhythm and relentless advance, continues with clocklike precision with the help of Sirmais’ exact conducting.
Imants Kalniņš, for many decades, has been a leading and defining figure in Latvian music. His signature style can be heard throughout the performances on this album, and are given vivid textures and rich colors, aided by the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra and conductors Atvars Lakstīgala and Māris Sirmais. These recordings display Kalniņš’ acute sense of melody and dramatic abilities, and provide for an engrossing and enjoyable journey through Imants Kalniņš’ symphonic works.
Liepāja Symphony Orchestra
Skani 067, 2018
1. Santa Cruz (2015)
Symphony No. 5 (1979)
2. Allegro appassionata
3. Sostenuto dolce
4. Allegretto festivo
5. Largo con grazia
Oboe Concerto (2012)
1. ♩= 120
2. ♩ = 60
3. ♩.= 80
Symphony No. 7 (2015)