Riga Saxophone Quartet recordings display versatility of the saxophone

The Riga Saxophone Quartet, an ensemble with thirty years of history, has raised the profile of the saxophone as a serious academic instrument with their performances and collaborations with other musicians. Since its inception, the driving force of the group has been renowned Latvian alto saxophonist Artis Sīmanis, and, since 2016, the other members of the ensemble are Katrīna Kivleniece-Cābule on soprano saxophone, Ainars Šablovskis on tenor saxophone, and baritone saxophonist Baiba Tilhena.

In 2021, the Riga Saxophone Quartet released the album Saule tikai (or ‘Merely Sun’) a collection of five modern works composed by Latvian composers, and the recordings display not just the skill of the Quartet, but also the versatility of the saxophone – the diverse styles and sounds that saxophone music can have.

The poetry of Imants Ziedonis inspired ‘Divas fantāzijas’ by Latvian American composer Dace Aperāne, a work that features the RSQ performing together with pianist Herta Hansena. The first fantasy, ‘Uz mēness pusi’ is tender and lyrical, with a dreamy melody in the piano joined by the freely flowing sounds of the saxophones. The second fantasy ‘Saule tikai – aplis’ begins with mysterious, lyrical interplay between the saxophones, becomes playful, and then concludes on a somber note, with rising notes in the saxophones, which then seem to evaporate with the sound of a triangle.

Accordionist Natālija Meļņikoviča joins the RSQ for the recording of composer Mārīte Dombrovska’s ‘Dīvainie sapņi’, a three-movement work inspired by imagination and dreams. Much like dreams, the work is full of unexpected twists, at times reassuring, at times ominous. The sound of the accordion adds to the overall uneasy feel of the work, particularly in the first movement, which begins calmly, then seems to gradually turn into a nightmarish vision. The second movement is like a strange dance, while the third movement has an eerie calm about it, almost like a sense of dread, and then concludes on a more melodic note, but then the work stops suddenly, almost as if suddenly waking from a dream.

Composer Rihards Dubra often has sacred and spiritual elements in his works, and his contribution to this collection, ‘Vidi quattuor angelos’, is a vocal instrumental work with text from the Book of Revelations. The RSQ is joined by mezzo-soprano Ieva Parša, a singer with extensive experience in singing modern works. ‘Vidi quattuor angelos’ is reverent and full of piety, with Parša’s vocals being both reserved and rich with spiritual veneration.

Composer Edgars Mākens has performed with indie rock bands Gaujarts and Manta, is also a composer of theater music, and the inspiration for his ‘Rīgas triptihs’ was the towers, market and bridges of Rīga. The RSQ, joined by percussionist Guntars Freibergs vividly present the images and atmosphere of Mākens’ work – from the solemn ‘Torņi’, a vision of the many famous towers of Rīga – not just church towers like on St. Peter’s Church, but also the radio tower on Zaķusala. The lively second movement – ‘Tirgus’ – allows the RSQ to paint a picture of the Rīga Central Market and all those in it – merchants, shoppers, tourists, all mixing together. The many bridges of Rīga are presented in ‘Tilti’, and one imagines walking along these bridges during sunset, and the RSQ conjures a multi-colored impression of this evening stroll.

Composer and percussionist Rihards Zaļupe provides the rhythmic and perpetually moving ‘Extension in Blur’, a work inspired by photographs by Australian Latvian artist Roberts Birze. The pulse of the work is generated by the Morse code equivalent of the title, and alternates between short and long pulses. The RSQ take these pulses and create a vibrant, energetic musical kaleidoscope.

Revising and updating existing beliefs on what the saxophone is capable of and what kind of music it can play, the Riga Saxophone Quartet provide fresh and varied displays of the saxophone’s capabilities on Saule tikai. From reverent, spiritual works, to lively contemporary visions, to otherworldly visions of dreams and fantasies, the Riga Saxophone Quartet exhibit the many melodic and sonic possibilities of the saxophone.

For further information, please visit the Riga Saxophone Quartet website.

Saule tikai

Rīgas Saksofonu kvartets

Skani, LMIC 096, 2021

Track listing:

Dace APERĀNE “Divas fantāzijas” / Two Fantasies

  1. I. Uz mēness pusi / Towards the Moon
  2. II. Saule tikai – aplis / Merely Sun

Mārīte DOMBROVSKA “Dīvainie sapņi” / Strange Dreams

  • I. Risoluto
  • II. Scherzando
  • III. Lontano
  • Rihards DUBRA Vidi quattuor angelos

Edgars MĀKENS “Rīgas triptihs” / The Rīga Triptych

  • I. Torņi / The Towers
  • II. Tirgus / Market
  • III. Tilti / The Bridges
  1. Rihards ZAĻUPE “Palielinājums izplūdumā” / Extension in Blur

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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