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Maija EINFELDE (b. 1939)
Pie zemes tālās… (At the Edge of the Earth) (1966)
Manas bērnības mājas (My Childhood Home) (1999) ¹
Iz senseniem laikiem (From Antiquity) (1992) ²
Sirēnu sala (Isle of the Sirens) (1998) ³
Sonata for Violin and Organ (1989) °
Psalm 15 (1998) ª
Ave Maria (1998) *
Latvian Radio Chamber Singers
Latvian Radio Choir ¹, ª, *
Latvian Radio Women's Chorus ³
Kaspars Putniņš, director
Sigvards Kļava, director ¹, ³, Ŗ, *
Larisa Bulava, organ ², °
Jānis Bulavs, violin °
Atis Stepinš, organ *
Dagnija Zilgalve, harp ¹
Ints Dālderis, clarinet ¹
Edgars Saksons, bells ¹
Inga Martinsone, soprano ³
Antra Drege, contralto ³
Recorded in Riga, Latvia (Church of St. Saviour; Dome Cathedral ², °,*; St. Paul's Church, ª; Cathedral of St. Francis ³; ERB Lutheran Church ¹) (dates not stated, disc originally released in 1999).

This is one of two interesting discs which have come my way from Latvian Radio in recent weeks. This issue focuses particularly on the works, mainly in this case of a vocal/choral nature, of Maija Einfelde. The music must, I suppose, be placed in the context of living through both the ravages of the Second World War and the post-Nazi Soviet occupation, followed by the new but chaotic freedoms after the collapse of the USSR. It must also, for that and other reasons, be viewed alongside the compositions of contemporaries of similar experiences, such as the deservedly ubiquitous Pärt, Vasks and the mighty Veljo Tormis. The latter's works provide this listener's benchmark for Baltic choral music. If you have never heard, say, the Midsummer Songs for St. John's Eve, then do so as a matter of urgency.

So where does Einfelde fit in with this living tradition? I detect a kinship, in some of the pieces, with the often angry and anguished utterances of Vasks, a composer very much championed to great effect by the likes of Gidon Kremer. Here you encounter a much greater ambivalence, delicacy, femininity (unsurprisingly!) than you may detect in the great but often quite robust offerings from Tormis. The longest vocal piece on the disc, the opening At the Edge of the Earth, sets texts by Aeschylus. The Greek classical theme is revisited in the impressive Isle of the Sirens (Homer). On all the vocal pieces, the Latvian Radio Choir and the various permutations of its subdivisions acquit themselves very well, as do soloists and directors. My favourite piece and perhaps the most immediately accessible on the discs is represented by the nostalgic but still fairly bleak My Childhood Home. Einfelde sets the words of a compatriot poet, Vilis Plūdons, with the choir accompanied by an usual but very effective combination of clarinet, harp and bells. Despite a certain diffuseness and hazy ambience, we are most certainly not in the realm of John Tavener style certainties and affirmations. From Antiquity is an organ piece, the alter-ego of one for four clarinets, and is, to these ears, perhaps the least interesting work included here. The single movement Violin and Organ Sonata, at over sixteen minutes the longest piece, is by contrast very interesting but also often a fairly harsh listening experience. This mood is also the prevalent one for the setting of Psalm 15 but the CD ends on a lighter note with a luminous and plangent Ave Maria.

All in all, this CD is an interesting and rewarding introduction to what was to me, a person whose love affair with the music of the Baltic republics began with the BIS LPs of Tubin in the 1980s, a hitherto unknown voice. Don't expect the accessibility or simplicity of Pärt or the overt power of Tormis but there is still much to enjoy and contemplate on. Definitely worth hearing.

Neil Horner

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