Latvian composer Jānis Ivanovs (1906 – 1983) earned recognition and distinction for his contributions to Latvian music, particularly symphonic music. Composer of twenty completed symphonies, his creative output spanned both the era of Latvia’s first independence as well as Soviet occupation, and his works remain a cornerstone of Latvian academic music.
Recognizing his contribution to Latvian symphonic music, the chamber orchestra Sinfonietta Rīga and conductor Normunds Šnē recorded an album of Ivanovs’ symphonies for strings, which was released in 2018 by the Latvian national music label Skani. The CD collects his works Sinfonietta, Poema Luttuoso, and his Symphony No. 14 Sinfonia da Camera.
The three movement Sinfonietta, though written towards the end of his life (1977), is a vibrant and youthful work. The restless, slightly tense first movement, with its undulating melodies, is played with precision by Sinfonietta Rīga, building in intensity throughout its brief lifespan, which then leads the more somber and reserved second movement, though at a slower tempo, loses none of the work’s intensity. The final movement alternates between an almost hyperactive expression and a slower, almost mournful atmosphere, giving the work many different dimensions and aspects, and conductor Normunds Šnē inspires a nuanced and layered performance from Sinfonietta Rīga.
Poema luttuoso (1966) is a harsh and dissonant work. This is not surprising, as the work is dedicated to the victims of the Salaspils concentration camp, and was inspired by author and physician Miervaldis Birze, who was imprisoned there. Bleak and full of pain, the work is a moving tribute to those that suffered there, and the composer, through repeated motifs, musically indicates that these terrible events should not be forgotten.
Symphony No. 14 or Sinfonia da camera was composed in 1971, and is a lyrical and vital work. Descending melodies begin the first movement, as Ivanovs deftly weaves together the string instruments to create a beautiful musical painting. The second movement, though slower and more deliberate, also has an artistic feel, like a painter slowly moving a paintbrush across a canvas, mixing colors and textures. The third and final movement raises the tension, with sudden jumps in the strings, providing for a piercing listening experience, brought together with precision and skill by conductor Šnē.
The CD booklet contains extensive notes by composer Imants Zemzaris on Ivanovs and his works, in both English and Latvian. Among other interesting facts is that Ivanovs’ final composition for solo piano was only eight measures long – a work entitled Diānai, dedicated to his granddaughter.
The chamber orchestra Sinfonietta Rīga and conductor Normunds Šnē reveal the many facets and layers in Jānis Ivanovs’ symphonic music, and confirm again why Ivanovs remains such a towering figure in Latvian symphonic music. Even though these are chamber orchestra works, they as rich and powerful as any work for a full symphony orchestra. Such is the talent of Sinfonietta Rīga and Šnē – and these works by Ivanovs gain a new vitality and vivacity in these performances.
Jānis Ivanovs – Symphonies for Strings
LMIC SKANI 068, 2018
I. Allegro energico
II. Andante tranquillo
III. Allegro assai
2. Poema Luttuoso
3. Symphony No. 14 ‘Sinfonia da camera’
I. Moderato – Allegro – Tempo I
III. Allegro – Moderato (Come sopra)
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