Recording of five cantatas by modern Latvian composers reaffirms range of Latvian choral works

It is well known that choir music is an essential aspect of Latvian culture, deeply ingrained into the national consciousness and psyche. Most every Latvian composer has written works for choir, since, besides the extensive choir tradition, there are also many talented choirs that would be ready to perform the work.

The Soviet occupation of Latvia also had its impact on choir music, mainly on the kinds of works that could be permitted – what would be allowed by the authorities. Sacred choir works were frowned upon, and any work that even hinted at Latvian patriotism was unlikely to be performed. Also, unsurprisingly, works composed by exiled Latvian composers were summarily ignored within Soviet occupied Latvia.

Upon renewal of Latvian independence in the early 1990s, musicians both in and beyond Latvia looked to reestablish the links of Latvian music and culture worldwide. One of these initiatives was by renowned Latvian American conductor Andrejs Jansons, who, along with several talented choirs and musicians, recorded multiple Latvian cantatas both by composers who lived in Latvia during the occupation, as well as exiled composers. Though recorded in 1993, the recordings were only recently released by Albany Records in the collection entitled 5 Latvian Cantatas.

Jansons gathered multiple choirs – the chamber choir Versija, the Latvian Radio Choir, the chamber choir Consum, as well as soloists from and the orchestra of the Latvian National Opera.

The first cantata is by exiled Latvian composer Imants Mežaraups and is the single movement ‘Sērdienītes dziesma’. The work, which weaves together Latvian folk songs about orphans, has both lighthearted moments as well as more tragic sections. The work also makes extensive use of traditional instruments, such as the stabule (recorder) in the somber introduction, as well as the Latvian kokle. Though there are many mournful moments throughout the work, it ends on a celebratory note – the orphan girl finds a rich husband. The choirs, along with soloists, present Mežaraups’ engrossing journey with a vivid, layered performance.

Pēteris Aldiņš’ ‘Pavasara Cikls’ is a collection of works with vernal and pastoral themes, also taken from Latvian folk songs. The playful ‘Rūtoj’saule’ leads in to the atmospheric ‘Ganīdama saganīju’ and then ‘Rotājies, tu, saulīte’ which is at times dance-like, but later majestic. The cycle concludes with the brief, but celebratory ‘Man patika miežu druva’. The work is vibrant and active, and conductor Jansons inspires the needed energy and vitality throughout the cycle.

The weighty and solemn ‘Bēru dziesmas’ by Longīns Apkalns uses Latvian folk songs about death and burials to create a melancholy mood. Occasionally discordant, but at times almost restless, like in the rhythmic ‘Gausi brauca vedējiņi’, the immersive work shows Apkalns’ skill with instrumentation, and the instrumentalists provide for a particularly affecting performance.

Composer Imants Kalniņš is one of the most beloved Latvian composers, both for his work in popular music, as well as his academic and choir music, and his contribution to this collection is ‘Brāli, mans brāli’ a cantata with texts by Latvian poet Rainis. The work begins with Kalniņš’ trademark syncopated and unusual rhythms, and Kalniņš turns Rainis’ expressive poetry, full of themes of standing up to oppression and dreams of freedom, into equally expressive music, particularly in the performance by bass soloist Aivars Krancmanis.

The fifth and final cantata in this collection is Haralds Berino’s ‘Dvēseļu kalnā’. The majestic work of seven individual movements is, in contrast to the other works on the CD, a sacred cantata. The soaring singing of soprano soloist Līga Drozda, is a particular highlight of this recording. Berino, who, during exile, lived in Canada, wrote extensively for choir, particularly sacred works, and his skill in this genre is evident in this cantata, at times meditative, other times exulting, and the performance of the choir elevates this work.

Though it has taken nearly thirty years for these recordings to be released, it was well worth the wait to once again reveal these works to audiences, since it is likely many listeners will be hearing these for the first time. Albany Records has been very supportive of Latvian music and has released many recordings from the archives which would have otherwise been likely forgotten. 5 Latvian Cantatas reaffirms not just the broad and diverse range of Latvian choir works, but also the skill of Latvian performers, particularly conductor Andrejs Jansons who not only made this recording possible, but also inspired vivid and stirring performances.

For further information, please visit the Albany Records website.

5 Latvian Cantatas

Albany Records, TROY 1804

Track listing

  1. Sērdienītes dziesma – Imants Mežaraups

Pēteris Aldiņš – Pavasara cikls

  • Rūtoj’ saule
  • Ganīdama saganīju
  • Rotājies, tu, saulīte
  • Man patika miežu druva

Longīns Apkalns – Bēru dziesmas

  • Jūdzat bērus, jūdzat raudus
  • Gausi brauca vedējiņi
  • Es visu viesiņu gaidītāja
  • Ko mēs labi pārnesām

Imants Kalniņš – Brāli, mans brāli

  1. Zēniņa dziesma
  2. Nabaga brālis
  3. Karaļmeita

Haralds Berino – Dvēseļu kalnā

  1. Dvēseļu kalnā
  2. Dievs ir gaisma
  3. Klusuma koks
  4. Debesu lāses
  5. Lūgšana dievnamā
  6. Laipnais vārds
  7. Spožums tam sāp

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.

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