Sudraba shows why Latvians are great musicians

Ex animo

One source of continual amazement about life in Latvia is that most every town has a music school. Any student, should they so desire, can spend time learning about music and playing instruments. Unlike my experience growing up in the United States, when music education in public school was limited to less than an hour per day playing in band, Latvian kids, if they choose to, can spend multiple hours per day in music school. Though this is perhaps not the most practical use of their time, it does ensure that the musicians of Latvia are of a world-class level. It may not be good for the Latvian economy to have a nation of starving musicians, but it sure does make for a nice soundtrack.

Latvia-born violinist Gidon Kremer has long been aware of this. He formed the Kremerata Balica chamber orchestra in 1997, featuring young musicians from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. One of the key musicians in the group has been cellist Marta Sudraba, who has been with the group since its founding. Educated at the Latvian Academy of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, her playing has been one of the cornerstones of Kremerata Baltica. The record label Upe tuviem un tāliem, in its quest to spotlight talented young Latvian musicians, last year released Ex animo, a compact disc of chamber music works featuring Sudraba.

Sudraba is joined by pianist Ventis Zilberts on the CD, as they tackle the classic (Beethoven), the impressionistic (Debussy), Russian (Shostakovich) and Latvian (Vasks).

The Beethoven work is the Seven Variations on “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen” (from “Die Zauberflöte) for cello and piano. I’ve always thought Beethoven was one of the most difficult composers to perform because so very many musicians have performed his work, making it difficult to stand out. However, Sudraba ably takes on this work. The original song is about love and is meant to be charming and playful, and Sudraba and Zilberts approach it with the necessary lightness to make the variations a joy to listen to.

Dmitri Shostokovich is represented by the “Sonata in D Minor for Cello and Piano.” Shostakovich, a 20th century Russian composer, often ran into trouble with the Soviet government, but is considered one of the greatest composers of that era. The sonata has a broad emotional range. As Sudaraba says in the liner notes, it displays “seriousness and craziness, mourning and sarcasm and light humor.” Deftly navigating the varied emotions, Sudraba brings out all the nuances of the work.

Modern Latvian classical music is represented by its most famous composes, Pēteris Vasks, and his work for solo cello, “Grāmata čellam.” This is another work of a very heavy emotional weight, as Vasks’ music can be very difficult and somber. Range again here is key. The first part of the work is fortissimo, and the second and final part is pianissimo, so the artist must be able to perform both the loud and the quiet, and give each part its own individual life. Especially in the fortissimo, Sudraba gives the work the urgency and tension expected. No less tense is the more melodic and subtle pianissimo, which also features Sudraba singing a simple melody over the sound of the cello.

To close out the CD, a work by the French impressionist composer Claude Debussy, the “Cello Sonata,” is included. Sudraba captures the very French charm of this work from the final years of Debussy’s life.

The packaging is excellent. Liner notes are in both Latvian and English and include short biographies of Sudraba and pianist Zilberts, as well as some discussion of the works contained on the CD. Upe tuviem un tāliem has once again done an excellent job in presenting a distinguished young Latvian artist. The CD highlights a truly gifted cellist, performing works of several different eras and styles, and is yet another document that shows why Latvian musicians are considered some of the best in the world.


Ex animo

Marta Sudraba

Upe tuviem un tāliem,  2007

Upe TT 025

Where to buy

Purchase Ex animo from BalticMall.

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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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