New CD features Kremerata Baltica performing works of Marģeris Zariņš

The Latvian national music label – Skani – actively promotes Latvian musicians, composers and their compositions. Perhaps it is not surprising that, considering the wealth of talent in Latvia, Skani often release a dozen or more albums every year, showcasing many different Latvian talents. Skani also bring attention to composers who might not be as well known today. One such composer who has long deserved renewed attention is Marģeris Zariņš.

Zariņš, who lived from 1910 to 1993, perhaps hit his creative peak in the 1960s. Zariņš was one of the first composers in Latvia to incorporate elements of jazz music and even popular music in his compositions, and also used non-traditional instruments like the saxophone and electric guitar. Zariņš perhaps even paved the way for composers like Raimonds Pauls and Imants Kalniņš who revolutionized Latvian popular music in the 1960s and 1970s. Zariņš even mixed in disparate elements like Baroque themes and music inspired by Japanese and French culture. To help raise the profile of this eclectic and creative composer, in 2021, Skani released an album of Zariņš’ works, performed by Kremerata Baltica (the Baltic youth string orchestra founded by violinist Gidon Kremer) and conducted by Andris Veismanis.

Mezzo-soprano Ieva Parša, one of the most distinguished performers of modern Latvian academic music, joins Kremerata Baltica in a performance of Zariņš’ ‘Partita baroka stilā’ (Partita in Baroque Style), a cycle of songs that melds Baroque, French and modern elements. At times playful, other times somber, the songs begin firmly rooted in the Baroque, with the modern, jazzy elements on display in the final song ‘Pavana’. Parša adds the needed lighter touches, as well as more serious interpretations to make this a particularly memorable performance of the song cycle.

Parša also sings on the second song cycle on the record – ‘Carmina antica’, with song texts from Ancient Greek literature (sung in Latvian). Here Parša’s voice interplays with the other instruments in the ensemble, particularly the flute, to create a kind of duet. This work has a more theatrical nature, with Parša expressing a range of emotions and thoughts with her voice, and the orchestra also adding to the narrative with their performance, particularly in the dramatic third song – ‘Traģiskā monodija no Mēdejas’ (Tragic Monody from Medea).

Zariņš also wrote larger scale works, including multiple organ concertos, the first two of which are included on this album, both of which feature organist Aigars Reinis. While many Latvian composers are known for their bleak, harsh music, Marģeris Zariņš stands out as someone who wrote uplifting, energetic music full of vitality. Such is the first organ concerto – ‘Concerto innocente’, where Reinis provides a rousing performance, and the classic organ is joined by the modern electric guitar. Such is Zariņš’ compositional skill that he can bring together these two rather disparate instruments and create a fluid, flowing work that neither instrument sounds out of place with the other.

The second organ concerto – ‘Concerto triptichon’ is weightier, more pensive. However, this concerto has a more defined melodic line – like something out of popular music, and the performance of Kremerata Baltica elevates Zariņš’ music, revealing melodic details and the deep, personal nature of this composition.

In many ways, Marģeris Zariņš was a revelatory, revolutionary composer, quite capable of composing some truly beautiful music. Bridging the two halves of the 20th century, he found inspiration throughout musical history and the world and created memorable works that remain compelling listening today. Kremerata Baltica and conductor Andris Veismanis, along with guests Ieva Parša and Aigars Reinis, have recorded a revelatory album that hopefully brings the music of Marģeris Zariņš to a worldwide audience.

For further information, please visit the Skani website

Marģeris Zariņš

Kremerata Baltica, conductor Andris Veismanis

LMIC/SKANi 128, 2021

Track listing:

Partita in Baroque Style for mezzo-soprano and instrumental ensemble

1. I. Variācijas

2. II. Galjarda

3. III. Intrada un kadence

4. IV. Saltarella

5. V. Menestrels

6. VI. Pavana

Carmina antica for mezzo-soprano and instrumental ensemble

7. I. Pāns ar flautu

8. II. Eoliešu kitāra

9. III. Traģiskā monodija no Mēdejas

Concerto No. 1 for organ and chamber orchestra Concerto innocente

10. I. Allegro gaio

11. II. Andante pensieroso

12. III. Allegro volando

Concerto No. 2 for organ and chamber orchestra Concerto triptichon

13. I. Ciborium

14. II. Mensa

15. III. Predella

Four Japanese Miniatures, Kristaps Pētersons, instr.

16. I. Ļoti viegli, vienādi, nesteidzoties

17. II. Adagio

18. III. Andante

19. IV. Allegro vivo

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.

Allure of ancient Latvian folksongs on new Tautumeitas CD

In just a few short years, the ethno-pop ensemble Tautumeitas have become one of the most celebrated ensembles in Latvia. Combining a traditional Latvian singing style with modern sounds and instruments, as well as giving performances and recording videos that include striking Latvian folk costumes and intricate headdresses and crowns, Tautumeitas continue to enchant listeners not just in Latvia, but worldwide (the group recently returned from a tour of Japan in the summer of 2022).

Building on their success, Tautumeitas released their latest album – Skrejceļš – in 2022. The ensemble is led by Asnate Rancāne, who is joined by Aurēlija Rancāne, Ilona Dzērve-Tālute, Laura Marta Līcīte, Laura Vārpiņa, and Gabriēla Zvaigznīte.

The album is imbued with a rhythmic energy, particularly songs like ‘Guli guli’, a raucous song built on a percussive foundation, as well as the pulsating ‘Mežā’, a song about a girl who prefers to sing in the forest, rather than in the fields.

Latvian celebrations and rituals also figure in many of the songs, such as the celebration of the winter solstice in ‘Spodrē manu augumiņu’. The celebratory, resonant performance also includes many mystical elements from Latvian folklore.

The album does have its more mellow, somber moments, like ‘Ružiņu duorziņā’, where the group sings over a simple, bell-like piano melody. The song, about a girl parting with her family, rises with intensity, and the performance by Tautumeitas is filled with a deeply felt sadness and regret.

Though almost all the song texts are taken from Latvian folk songs, the song ‘Muoseņa’, a collaboration with Prāta vētra vocalist Renārs Kaupers, also includes new lyrics. The dreamy, thoughtful song, about a girl pondering her future, is ornamented by the rich instrumentation that combines modern instruments and more ancient instruments like the Latvian kokle.

One of the odder songs on the album is ‘Rise up!’ a tribute to Marija Golubova, who was from the Latgale region of Latvia and was known for her stories and singing (an album featuring her stories and songs – Marija Golubova: Stāsti un dziesmas – was released in 2003) and clearly, she was an inspiration to Tautumeitas. What makes the song unusual is that the first half of the song has funk and jazz elements (which may remind some listeners of many of Raimonds Pauls’ songs from the 1970s), but then transitions to a more traditional Latvian folk performance. Golubova’s voice is heard throughout the track.

Another song with an unexpected twist is ‘Ritual’, a song about a girl getting ready to get married to a suitor from a distant land. Though the mother is crying, the girl says she will not be far away. The song then turns into a driving, thunderous performance with elements from the Bulgarian folk song ‘Кавал свири’ – (The Kaval is Playing – the kaval being a Balkan flute) so presumably the girl is far away in Bulgaria. This transition, though slightly startling, makes for an immersive, almost hypnotic mix of both Baltic and Balkan elements.

Expanding their sound palette even further on Skrejceļš, Tautumeitas retain the allure of ancient folksongs and present them in modern settings to exceptional artistic and musical effect. Energetic and lively, driven by the powerful voices and harmonies of all the singers in the group, this collection continues the ascent of Tautumeitas as one of the most original and talented ensembles in Latvia.

For further information, please visit the Tautumeitas website



TM03, 2022

Track listing:

  1. Vīna ūtrai
  2. Arājiņš
  3. Panama
  4. Guli guli
  5. Muoseņa
  6. Rūžiņu duorziņā
  7. Spodrē manu augumiņu
  8. Ritual
  9. Mežā
  10. Rise up!
  11. Suņi rēja
  12. Skrejceļš
  13. Dziedat, meitas!

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.

Vilki latest album features Latvian war and battle songs from different eras

With Latvia’s location between multiple major powers, it is no surprise that centuries of wars have left their impression on the nation. Uncountable armies and soldiers have marched over the territory of Latvia, and Latvians were regularly dragged into larger conflicts. Consequently, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of Latvian songs about war and battle.

The Latvian men’s vocal ensemble Vilki have made it their mission to gather and record as many of these songs as possible. Since their beginnings in the early 1990s, Vilki have been regularly performing and recording songs of war, and they released their latest album – Bunkurs 13 – in 2021. The title – Bunker 13 – is also appropriate considering that this is the group’s 13th album. The album gathers songs from throughout Latvia’s history – from ancient folk songs to modern military songs. The group performs songs with minimal instrumentation – songs are sung in unison, with the occasional harmonica, kokle, or accordion to assist.

Some listeners may be surprised to hear so many happy songs on the album. Notwithstanding Latvia’s tragic history, many of the songs here are about the preparation of going off to war, with a touch of bravado. The album includes some well-known songs like the World War I era Latvian Riflemen’s song ‘Mirdzot sķēpiem’, a song about a romance between a rifleman and a young maiden. Though this song does end on a mournful note (the maiden weeps at the rifleman’s grave). The dance-like ‘Jautrības brīžiem’ is about soldiers taking a break from battle to enjoy life, ‘Karavīram garlaicīgi’ is also a rousing song about what soldiers do in times of boredom.

Not all the songs are positive though – for example ‘Kurzemes pēdējie leģionāri’, about the last remaining Latvian Legionnaires in Kurzeme at the end of World War II. Uncertain of their future, the soldiers endeavor to remain hopeful in the face of certain destruction by Soviet forces, and Vilki’s performance of the song is poignant and heartbreaking. The song ‘Bunkurs 13’ is full of dark humor about the destruction of this particular bunker, but the men are determined to still fight for Latvia to the bloody end.

The modern era is represented by ‘Kājnieku dziesma’, a recently written soldiers’ marching song. Written by trainees at the National Defense Academy of Latvia, Vilki perform a full-throated interpretation of the song.

One does wish that the group had provided more information about the songs in the CD packaging (no booklet is included), especially considering the history of the songs. It would have been helpful to at least know which era the song was from, to provide some historical context.

The enthusiastic and authentic performances by Vilki on Bunkurs 13 breathe new life into these songs and help reveal the history of Latvia’s soldiers from throughout the centuries. Covering many different eras, with songs both joyous and bleak, the album reconfirms Vilki as premiere interpreters of Latvian war songs.

For more information, please visit the Vilki website

Bunkurs 13


Lauska 2022

Track listing:

  1. Es savai māmiņai
  2. Zviegtin zviedza
  3. Tumši bija, gaišis tapa
  4. Uz tēviju!
  5. Sakarnieku dziesma
  6. 19.divīzijas dziesmas
  7. Kurzemes pēdējie leģionāri
  8. Ložmetējnieku dziesma
  9. Artilēristu dziesma
  10. Ai, bāliņi
  11. Mirdzot šķēpiem
  12. Izlūki
  13. Jautrības brīžiem
  14. Aizjāja latviets
  15. Karavīram garlaicīgi
  16. Kad ar uzvaru
  17. Brīvības kareivji
  18. Paliec sveiks, mans mazais draugs
  19. Uz priekšu, latvieši!
  20. Ikkatru sestdien’s vakaru
  21. Bunkurs 13
  22. Kājnieku dziesma

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.