Sinfonietta Rīga vividly brings to life works of new Latvian composers

The Latvian national music label Skani was established to, among other goals, promote new works by Latvian composers to a global audience. One recent such example is the collection Chamber Symphonies, three symphonic works performed by the orchestra Sinfonietta Rīga, conducted by Normunds Šnē. The CD, released in 2017, collects three single movement symphonies by Andris Dzenītis, Anitra Tumševica, and Linda Leimane.

All three works were commissioned by Sinfonietta Rīga, and each composer was given the challenge of composing a symphonic work for the comparatively smaller orchestra. Though a chamber orchestra, the performances reveal that even a smaller ensemble can be powerful, and can provide vivid and dynamic interpretations, full of color and nuance.

Composer Andris Dzenītis has established himself as one of the premiere composers in Latvia today, and has already had a productive and successful career, and he was already winning composition awards at the age of 16. He has already won the Latvian Great Music Award twice (2007, 2015). According to the CD booklet, Dzenītis says that his “work is emotionally guided by the relationship between fragility, original force and brutality.” Indeed, much of that can be heard in his contribution to this collection – ‘(Sin)fonietta’. From its mysterious, ominous beginning with a solo clarinet sounding almost like a scream, the work continues its uneasy development, with an ascending cello motif leads to an almost violent climax, an eruption of tension in the strings.

The CD booklet describes composer Anitra Tumševica’s work ‘Die Stimme’ as  “a philosophical generalisation about the voice and its direct and transcendental meanings.” The work presents the concept of the voice in many ways – the voice of God, the media being a kind of voice, and the work presents many individual voices of the instruments. The work has a kind of cinematic quality to it, and is energetic and driving from the onset. This then leads to a quieter and slower section, with an almost mournful melody heard in the woodwinds. Later in the work, we hear the actual voices of the orchestra members – being unintelligible, this gives the work an unsettling feeling.

Calling the works collected here challenging would be an understatement. As with many other modern academic compositions, the composers eschew traditional melody and forms to create sonic explorations and experiments, which may be difficult for some listeners to appreciate. Perhaps the most challenging work on the CD is Linda Leimane’s ‘Guesstimations’. According to the booklet, Leimane’s music is “characterised by high intensity and brutality combined with a subtly varied colour palette.” In the work, the composer seems to want to intentionally disorient the listener with sudden sounds and changes in tempo, giving the work a kind of dreamlike sensation, particularly in the thundering drums, along with the rising and falling strings.

Sinfonietta Rīga, established in 2006, has long been established as one of the premiere orchestras in Latvia. Led by conductor Normunds Šnē, the chamber orchestra displays its proficiency with a broad variety of musical offerings, from the Baroque era to modern works, including many experimental and non-traditional performances. The ensemble has won the Latvian Great Music Award on three separate occasions, and also won a Grammy award for their performance of Adam’s Lament by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Šnē, who has also worked with the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra and the Latvian National Opera Orchestra, has collaborated with many well known musicians, and also founded the new music festival Arēna in 2003.

Sinfonietta Rīga and conductor Normunds Šnē vividly bring these new compositions to life on Chamber Symphonies. Vividly displaying the wide variety and creative spectrum of modern Latvian academic music, the ensemble provides nuanced and compelling interpretations of these works. The record label Skani, committed to presenting the best in Latvian compositions and performances, continues to showcase the many facets and creativity of Latvian musicians and composers, and these three compositions, in the hands of exceptional musicians like Sinfonietta Riga and conductor Normunds Šnē, prove to be worthy entries in modern music.

For further information, visit the Sinfonietta Rīga website and the Skani website.

Chamber Symphonies

Sinfonietta Rīga

LMIC/SKANI 059, 2017

Track listing

  1. (Sin)fonietta – Andris Dzenītis
  2. Die Stimme – Anitra Tumseviča
  3. Guesttimations – Linda Leimane

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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