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Urmas SISASK (born 1960)

Christmas Oratorio (1992)a
Ilze AKERBERGA (born 1953)

Winter Cantata (1981)b
Jānis LŪSĒNS (born 1959)

Child of the Stars (1997)c
Aira Kuzmicka (soprano)a; Antia Bigača (mezzo-soprano)a; Aleksandrs Antonenko (tenor)a; Linda Broduža (narrator)b;New York Latvian Concert Choir; Youth Choir Balsis; Male Choir Gaudeamus; Recorder Ensemble of the 1st Riga Music Schoola; Children’s Choir of the 4th Riga Music Schoolbc
Latvian National Symphony Orchestra/Andrejs Jansons
Recorded: Riga Recording Studio, January 2000
NYLCC 003 [72:56]


Estonian-born Urmas Sisask may be better-known for his large output of vocal music, some of which has been recorded, and – maybe too – for his large-scale Starry Sky Cycle for piano. His Christmas Oratorio is an uninhibited celebration of the simple joy of Christmas. This overtly eclectic score runs the whole gamut of musical allusions, from baroque Händelian brilliance to updated folk-like simplicity, along with unashamed leanings towards Hispanic and popular music rhythms. There are many attractive moments such as the instrumental interludes (the second one is reworked in the final section as a somewhat tongue-in-cheek bolero) and many of the vocal sections are appealingly tuneful. The whole, however, never plumbs any great depths, but is happy to go its own way in utmost simplicity, with much freshness and in a light-hearted festive mood. All this does not exclude heartfelt emotion expressed in utterly simple terms, as at the very end of the last chorus, when the work ends with just the ethereal, other-worldly, sounds of the recorders softly punctuated by a few notes from the celesta. "A frosty Christmas eve, and the bright stars shining", as it were. The music is quite straightforward and should appeal to many choral societies, the more so that the texts, drawn from various liturgical sources, are in Latin and the orchestral forces are of fairly modest size though calling in a harpsichord and a few recorders as well as important parts for a pastoral oboe and a jubilant trumpet.

Ilze Akerberga’s Winter Cantata is a different proposition though simplicity is again the watchword. The texts, all by Latvian writers, are not directly related to Christmas, but rather with snow and snowy landscapes at the time of Christmas as seen by a child’s eyes. The third section, however, setting a beautiful poem by Teodors Zeiferts (Golden Dew fell through the Night), has a closer connection with Christmas, as does the fifth song. The final song is a set of variations on a traditional Christmas carol. Appropriately enough, children’s voices feature prominently – and happily – in the second and fourth songs, in which the vocal writing sometimes brings Bartók’s delightful choruses for children’s voices to mind. Most refreshing indeed, and a nice novelty, as far as I am concerned.

At the risk of repeating myself, I must say that Lūsēns’ cantata Child of the Stars is yet another simple and tuneful setting of some fine poems by Latvian authors that may not also directly relate to Christmas though they nevertheless allude to the Holy Night of Christ’s birth. As a whole, this work may be somewhat more traditional than the other ones in this release, but the music sometimes made me think of Howard Blake’s Snowman, and none the worse for that, I hasten to say.

With Christmas drawing near, this enjoyable and attractive release is well worth seeking for as a change for the usual Christmas compilations of more traditional stuff. Everyone here plays and sings with all his/her heart. I enjoyed it enormously.

Hubert Culot

See also Chistmas in Latvia


Information concerning this and other recordings of the New York Latvian Concert Choir may be obtained from the following :

New York Latvian Concert Choir~
22 Minturn Street

Christmas By The Amber Sea

Available from:
$15.00USD per disc (includes postage to USA/Canada only; contact NYLCC for other rates)
Cash, check or money order (no credit cards) to:
New York Latvian Concert Choir, Inc.
c/o B. Rouse
140 West End Avenue, #7F
New York, NY 10023, USA
Phone: 212-891-6824

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