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From The Golden Treasury Of Latvian Organ Music
Alfrēds KALŅINŠ (1879 – 1951)

Fantasy in G minor (1902)
Pastoral in B major (1913)
Jōzeps MEDIŅŠ (1877 – 1947)

Prelude No.1 (1939)
Pēteris BARISONS (1904 – 1947)

The Prayer (1938)
Tālivaldis KENINŠ (b. 1919)

Introduction, pastoral and Toccata (1983)
Pēteris VASKS (b. 1946)

Te Deum (1991)
Aivars KALĒJS (b. 1951)

Per aspera ad astra (1989)
Rihards DUBRA (b. 1964)

The Longing for Eternal Hills (1995)
Vita Kalnciema, at the organ of Riga Cathedral
Recorded: no info available, published 2003
MANSCD LCLA 026 [74:59]

 

From the Golden Treasury of Latvian Organ Music is the generic title of a series of concerts planned to cover several seasons launched by Vita Kalnciema. The present release gives a fair idea of what may be expected from this (hopefully) ongoing series, and of the wealth of organ music composed in Latvia during the 20th Century. All the pieces here were composed during the past century. The earliest work is Kalniņš’ Fantasia in G minor composed in 1903 and the most recent, Dubra’s The Longing for Eternal Hills, composed in 1995.

Kalniņš may be regarded as the first noteworthy Latvian composer of the early 20th Century. He is represented here by the Fantasia which is still rather indebted to Franck, and by the Pastoral in B major of 1913 which clearly demonstrates considerable stylistic progress. The music of the later work is more varied and more searching, with many fine instrumental touches. Both pieces are really very fine and definitely deserve to be heard.

Mediņš belongs to the same generation as Kalniņš (incidentally, both are exact contemporaries of composers such as Ravel, Holst, Vaughan Williams, Ireland and Bridge); and his Prelude No.1 (from a set of three) is another well-written piece still rooted in tradition, but – again – well worth hearing.

Barisons’ The Prayer is a substantial piece falling into two sections played without a break: Repentance, more troubled in mood and Forgiving, appeased and serene. This fine work shows that some Latvian composers were then looking West; and the Barisons’ piece as well as that of Keninš often made me think of Widor and Dupré.

Tālivaldis Keninš, now resident in Canada, is one of the best-known composers in this collection, Vasks being the other one. Keninš’ music has been fairly well served as far as recordings are concerned. There exists a 4-disc set published as part of the Anthologie de la musique canadienne, as well as a couple of discs with some of his chamber works. He sometimes resorts to the Lutheran chorales from his youth, as in his very fine Partita on Lutheran Chorales for strings (1983) and Introduction, pastoral and Toccata on the Lutheran Carol "Beautiful Saviour" from the same year. This is a magnificent piece of music, again reminiscent of Dupré and Langlais (and none the worse for that). The Pastoral is beautifully atmospheric whereas the concluding Toccata is appropriately brilliant and assertive.

Vasks’ Te Deum of 1991 is a most welcome addition to his growing discography, the more so that this superb piece shows him in an unusually optimistic mood. The music moves forward with confident energy towards a jubilant climax followed by a hushed, peaceful coda of great beauty. There is nothing here of what has often be referred to as "Baltic holy minimalism". This is one of the finest and the most attractive works here, as are the last two items by Kalējs and Dubra.

Kalējs’ Peraspera ad astra ("from the Thorns to the Stars") is dedicated to innocent children who were deported to Siberia at the end of World War II and who died in exile. The troubled, ominous mood of the opening section develops into tragedy and despair, and is ultimately relieved in the final, consoling section ending with a radiant hymn-like coda slowly fading away high up in the air. The music is somewhat more complex and rhythmically alert, but again superbly written (one sometimes think of Messiaen and Kutavičius), but it is nevertheless quite accessible.

This interesting selection ends with Dubra’s The Longing for Eternal Hills. On the whole, this is somewhat simpler in design and idiom than Kalējs’ and quite attractive. It opens hesitantly, with a fragile melodic phrase over soft chords. It then slowly develops into a long, supple melody gaining momentum in the central, animated section and ending in a moving hymn of praise.

Vita Kalnciema plays beautifully throughout, and the whole is superbly recorded, in natural acoustics. Reviewing discs may often yield unexpectedly delightful surprises. This is the case with this magnificent release that I cannot but strongly recommend.

Hubert Culot

 



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