Pianist Toms Ostrovskis vividly presents Alfrēds Kalniņš’ works on new album

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.

For further information, please visit the Skani website.

Alfrēds Kalniņš – Moments Musicaux

Toms Ostrovskis, Piano

Skani 069

Track listing

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

8. Allegretto

9. Agitato ed appassionato

10. Andantino

11. In modo di valse lente

12. Tranquillo

13. Moderato

14. Leggiadro

Četri kapričeto / Four Capriccietti

15. Vivo

16. Piacevole

17. Allegretto

18. Allegro moderato, ma risoluto

Trīs gabaliņi albumam “Jaunībai” / Three Small Pieces for the Album “For the Youth”

19. Dziesmiņa

20. Pie strauta

21. Vecais koklētājs

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.

Latest album by Vilkači full of warrior spirit

Vilkači, who describe themselves a ‘folklore and ancient battle ensemble’, endeavor to perform Latvian folk songs in an authentic and traditional manner. For nearly 20 years, the group has not just sung folk songs, but have researched ancient Latvian traditions and trades. They also wear authentic period garb and even demonstrate battle techniques as part of their performances to provide further authenticity and realism.

Their most recent album, 2018’s Karavīru audzināj’, collects Latvian folk songs about war. With Latvia’s long history as a battleground for larger powers, there is an extensive collection of songs about being a soldier and going into battle, as well as songs about the heartbreak for the families of the fallen. The group, who often sing unaccompanied or with just percussion, evoke the spirit of the soldier throughout their interpretations.

The deliberate drumbeat of war punctuates the song ‘Padziedāsim, nu, bāliņi’, a song about preparation for war and the uncertainty of what lays ahead – how some will fight in battle while others lay in graves. Vilkači capture both the bravado and dread of soldiers prior to their departure.

The single voiced ģīga (or bowed zither) provides a somber background for the song ‘Pati māte savu dēlu’, an appropriate accompaniment for a song about a mother dressing her son for war. The soldier is also certain that he will not return, adding an element of resignation to this weighty song.

Though not specifically about war, ‘Elle, elle kunga rija’ is a song about the hardship and difficulty of working for the local lord, and about the oppressive heat of working all day in the lord’s barn. This torturous work could be considered a kind of preparation for the horrors and misery of war.

The rousing ‘Kur kungami tādi vīri’ praises the men that are setting out for war, with exaggerations of how the young men can move mountains with their chests and carry oaks in their arms, while the tragic ‘Bāriņam nav tēva’ is about the sad fate of an orphan in war, how he has no one to tell his sorrows to.

With their attention to detail and meticulous research, Vilkači ensure that their interpretations and performances of these folk songs about war and battle are not just authentic, but also respectful and reverential for the many soldiers and others who gave their lives in the many centuries of war that have plagued Latvia. The songs on Karavīru audzināj’,while often tragic and heartbreaking, are still full of warrior spirit, and are a tribute to Latvian soldiers throughout history.

For further information, please visit the Vilkači Facebook page.

Karavīru audzināj’


Lauska CD 084, 2018

Track listing:

  1. Padziedāsim, nu, bāliņi
  2. Pati māte savu dēlu
  3. Es uzkāpu kalnā
  4. Jātnieciņa dēliņš biju
  5. Elle, elle kungu rija
  6. Gatavs manis kara zirgis
  7. Nu ar Dievu, zaļa zāle
  8. Ūziņas
  9. Kur kungami tādi vīri
  10. Bāriņam nav tēva
  11. Eita meitas ielaižati
  12. Karā iešu es, māmiņ

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 Voices’ album “Sudrabs” reconfirms group’s versatility

The women’s a capella singing ensemble Latvian Voices has become one of Latvia’s best known musical exports – performing worldwide, and enrapturing audiences and listeners with their beautiful singing and soaring harmonies. The group, who will celebrate their 10th anniversary in December 2019, also recently organized their own vocal festival in Valmiera, Latvia. Their most recent album (their seventh) – Sudrabs (or ‘Silver’) was released in 2018, and the singers on the album are Laura Jēkabsone, Laura Leontjeva, Zane Stafecka, Beāte Locika, Marta Lortkipanidze, Dita Belicka and Elīna Ose.

According to the group, the title Sudrabs was chosen because ‘Silver is a very versatile material … silver is often associated with human emotional and spiritual maturity’, which is appropriate, considering the maturity displayed throughout the album.

Latvian folk songs continue to be an essential element of the ensemble’s repertoire, and the selections on Sudrabs reconfirm their innate ability to interpret and perform these songs, even in markedly different styles than the originals. There is the exuberant energy of ‘Kad es gāju tauteņos’ and ‘Es par bēdu nebēdāju’, and the playfulness of ‘Aiz upītes es uzaugu’, with its jazzy interlude in the middle. The group also offer their version of one of the most beautiful folk songs from Latgale, ‘Kur gaismeņa zyla ause’, a song about a man courting a young girl, but her family is reluctant for her to leave the homestead, but she insists she is ready to go. Though a lovely interpretation, the group has inserted unrelated verses into the song, which slightly distract from the story.

Though not a folk song, ‘Piekūns skrien debesīs’, originally performed by the group Jauns mēness, receives a similarly reverent interpretation, bringing forth the mystical and spiritual aspects of this song, creating a kind of hypnotic meditation.

The group also continue to display their abilities to compose new music as well – Jēkabsone proves to be an accomplished songwriter with songs like ‘Sudraba mēness’, ‘August Clouds’ (lyrics by Jānis Strazdiņš), and ‘In Time of Silver Rain’ (lyrics by American poet Langston Hughes), with the vocal performances providing a memorable musical interpretation of this poem of rebirth.

Though their arrangements and performance of well known pop songs like Seal’s ‘Kiss from a Rose’ and Cyndi Lauper’s ‘True Colors’ are impeccable, one does get a feeling that perhaps a capella versions of these once ubiquitous songs might not have been necessary. Still, that is balanced out with their achingly beautiful arrangement of Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’, which even enhances the original – no mean feat, considering how big a hit the song was for the band. The melancholy, though hopeful song, reaches an emotional climax with the voices reproducing the fifths of the guitar solo in the original, and, with just their voices, create a moving version of this cathartic song.

Combining their mastery of singing with both popular songs and Latvian folk songs, Sudrabs is a remarkable achievement. With their soaring voices, engrossing arrangements, and singular talent, the women of Latvian Voices confidently show their ability and skill over a variety of styles and genres, making for a transcendent and emotionally rich listen.

For further information, please visit the Latvian Voices website.


Latvian Voices


Track listing

  1. MLK
  2. Keidas
  3. Kad es guoju tauteņos
  4. Es par bēdu nebēdāju
  5. Aiz upītes es uzaugu
  6. Kur gaismeņa zyla ause
  7. Piekūns skrien debesīs
  8. Sudraba mēness
  9. August Clouds
  10. Kiss from a Rose
  11. In Time of Silver Rain
  12. True Colors
  13. Life is a Game
  14. Fix You

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.