One of the most ambitious and memorable academic choir projects of the past decade was World Sun Songs, a project organized by legendary conductor Māris Sirmais, where contemporary world composers were asked to compose choir music for the Latvian youth choir Kamēr…, and the theme of the composition had to relate to the sun. A number of composers worldwide (as well as Latvia) – 16 composers from 17 different nations – responded to the challenge and, in 2008, the results were presented and recorded.
In 2011, as a logical follow-up to this project, a similar project, this time with compositions based upon the moon, aptly titled Mēness dziesmas (The Moon Songs) was unveiled.
Unlike World Sun Songs, all of the works on Mēness dziesmas are by Latvian composers. This is also the first CD release to be overseen by new Kamēr… artistic director Jānis Liepiņš, who took over the baton after the shock departure of Māris Sirmais in 2012. Though they lost their founder and guiding light Sirmais, the choir has taken no missteps and Mēness dziesmas is just the latest entry in a discography that is not only simply unique and distinctive, but also reaffirms the choir’s status as one of the most talented youth choirs in the world.
A broad spectrum of contemporary Latvian composers is represented on this collection. One of the best known and most popular tandems in Latvian popular music has been composer Raimonds Pauls and lyricist Jānis Peters, whose words and music have been in many of Pauls’ most popular works. This time, the talent of the two have been combined in ‘Tu esi mēness neredzamā puse’, with classical and jazz elements in the music by Pauls, and some of the most romantic words by Peters – ‘Tu spīdi mēness neredzamā pusē, Es Tevi gaidu gaismā redzamajā’ – ‘On the dark side of the moon, you are shining. I’m waiting for you in the visible light’.
Symphonist Juris Karlsons provides a composition based upon the ancient Greek legend of Selene, a goddess of the moon, who was in love with Endymion. Karlsons uses only ancient Greek names in the text, making this work more of a vocalise. This gives the work a mysterious yet poetic nuance, leaving the listener to decipher the legend from the music.
Besides being a distinguished guitarist, Kaspars Zemītis has also make a name for himself as a composer. His contribution to this collection is ‘Mēnessnakts’, a choir composition with lyrics by Aspazija. Performing guitar on the work, Zemītis’ performance, combined with the romantic words by Aspazija, makes for a dreamy and memorable song.
Though more known for his new age instrumental music, Raimonds Tiguls provides one of the more memorable works in this collection – ‘Moonlight Sound Design’, an arrangement of one of his earlier works. The performance also features Tiguls himself on the instrument known as a ‘hang’, a rare instrument made in Switzerland, an instrument that almost looks like a UFO, but plays soft metallic music. The unique instrument gives the work a haunting and mystical feeling, enhanced by the solo by soprano Ingrīda Krasovska.
Composer Ēriks Ešenvalds has found much inspiration in the poetry of American Sara Teasdale, a poet of the early 20th century. A number of his choir works have featured her lyrical poetry, and Mēness dziesmas features her poem ‘The New Moon’ set to music. This work is Teasdale at her most tormented (her life ended by suicide), with Kamēr… running the gamut of emotions in this one work, beginning with the bleak words ‘Day, you have bruised and beaten me down’, and finishing with the hopeful ‘Oh who could be bitter and want to die when a maiden moon wakes up in the sky’, concluding with a trademark mystical and enigmatic conclusion, with the voices of the choir slowly dissipating.
The closing work on the CD is the epic fifteen minute ‘Mēnesim robs’, a fairy-tale by poet Ojārs Vācietis set to music by Andris Sējāns. The story, about a monster called the ‘Šlopsters Klopsters’ who swallows the moon, follows the attempts by a number of characters to retrieve the moon from the monster’s clutches. The Latvian Jānitis, the Mongolian Angasay, the African Mambo (who, for whatever reason, is introduced with ‘Jamaica, Jamaica’, which isn’t quite in Africa), when finally the smallest boy of all convinces the Šlopster Klopster to hang the moon back in its rightful place. Sējans keeps up the interest and story for the course of the work, with varied changes in style and tempo, making for an engrossing adventure.
The CD booklet contains extensive notes, as well as comments by the composers themselves, on all of the compositions in Latvian and English, as well as brief biographies of the choir and Jānis Liepiņš.
The youth choir Kamēr…, in one of their most satisfying and intriguing collections, shows that even the departure of conductor Māris Sirmais does not make a dent in their performance or even their ability to select the most striking works for their repertoire, as well as extract some of the finest music from Latvian composers, who always seem to bring it up a notch when they know they are composing for Kamēr… A worthy companion to World Sun Songs, Mēness dziesmas is yet another document of a choir, along with artistic director Jānis Liepiņš, at the top of their games.
Choir Kamēr… website: http://www.kamer.lv
Youth choir Kamēr…
1. Tu esi mēness neredzamā puse – Raimonds Pauls
2. Selēnes zilie putni – Juris Karlsons
3. Mani mīl mākslinieks grēcīgs – Līga Celma
4. Mēnessnakts – Kaspars Zemītis
5. Mēnesnīcas noktirne – Arturs Maskats
6. Mēness vocalīze – Evija Skuķe
7. Moonlight Sound Design – Raimonds Tiguls
8. Mēnesī… – Rihards Zaļupe
9. The New Moon – Ēriks Ešenvalds
10. Pasaka ‘Mēnesim robs’ – Andris Sejāns
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