Uģis Prauliņš explores sounds of Renaissance era with ancient music ensemble Ars Antiqua Riga

Latvian composer Uģis Prauliņš has long been known for his diverse and striking compositions, which often combine both modern and ancient elements, such as Renaissance and Gregorian styles. One of his best-known works, the oratorio Odi et Amo, a recording of which was released in 1999, featured the Riga Cathedral Boys’ Choir alongside synthesizers and electric guitars.

Prauliņš continues to explore the sounds and styles of different eras, combining them in new and intriguing way. A more recent composition, the Mass and Interludes L’homme armé, was recorded by the ancient music ensemble Ars Antiqua Riga (a vocal ensemble with five members, including artistic director Pēteris Vaickovskis), and was released by the Latvian national record company Skani in 2022.

The work, which combines elements of the traditional Christian mass, as well as songs and texts about war and peace, was partially inspired by the French knight’s song L’homme armé, and also grew from a collaboration between Prauliņš and Vaickovskis, who invited the composer to write interludes on Franco-Flemish Renaissance era composer Johannes Ockeghem’s Mass L’homme armé.

L’homme armé uses less of the modern elements than Odi et Amo did, though the composer himself does perform the synthesizer on some of the tracks, such as the subdued and dreamy introduction ‘Introit’. Though the text is about how the “armed man should be feared”, the work has a meditative nature, in contrast to the text about battle.

Prauliņš offers an authentic Gregorian style interpretation of the traditional ‘Kyrie’ section of the Mass, a work of sublime beauty, with the individual voices of the members of Ars Antiqua Riga rising and falling in harmony with each other, supplemented by the sounds of the sackbut (an ancient version of the trombone) performed by Vairis Nartišs and Kaspars Majors.

The album was recorded at St. John’s Church in Riga, and one of the many benefits of the recording location is that the church organ, here played by Jānis Pelše, can be used throughout the performances, both with the singers, as well as individual instrumental works like ‘Manzarek M. Monk’ and ‘Trouvére’.

Though most of the work is meditative and contemplative, there are lively and powerful moments, such as the almost bellicose ‘Perc. Org. Shuffle’, which brings forth the battle elements of the text. The voices of Ars Antiqua Riga also give Prauliņš’ ‘Gloria’ a triumphant air, with their resounding performance of the text ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’, which then leads to the celebratory ‘Hosanna in Excelsis’ and its repeated, exultant ‘Hallelujah’.

There are also moments of tension, particularly in the almost abrasive ‘Dies irae’, where Prauliņš’ music accentuates the fear and terror in the text, and this is further enhanced by the dramatic and energetic organ performance by Pelše, along with the ominous sounds of the sackbuts.

Though firmly rooted in the Renaissance era, Uģis Prauliņš L’homme armé adds a few modern touches to make for an immersive and atmospheric listen. Aided by the immense vocal talents of Ars Antiqua Riga and their artistic director Pēteris Vaickovskis, along with skilled organist Jānis Pelše and sackbut players Vairis Nartišs and Kaspars Majors, the work proves to be an inspiring and moving prayer for peace.

For further information, please visit the Skani website.

Uģis Prauliņš. L’homme armé

Ars Antiqua Riga

LMIC/SKANi 142, 2022

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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