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Christmas in Latgalea

Christ is Born

Star, Night and Miracle

Hallowed Eve
Pēteris ALDIŅŠ

This Sacred Night
Aija Pelše (soprano); Antra Bigača (mezzo-soprano); Ivars Cinkuss (baritone); Jānis Markovs (baritone); Aivars Klingenbergs (bagpipes)a; New York Latvian Concert Choir; Sonore Choir, Riga; Chamber Orchestra of the Latvian National Orchestra;
Andrejs Jansons
Recorded: Riga Recording Studio, January 1996
NYLCC 001 [77:17]

Quite recently I reviewed a Christmas disc from the same source Christmas by the Amber Sea. Here is another fairly unusual one coupling five recent Christmas cantatas composed by Latvian composers for the New York Latvian Concert Choir. Ilze Akerberga’s Winter Cantata was included in Christmas by the Amber Sea and another cantata by her opens the present selection. Though still fairly direct and simple in aims and means, Christmas in Latgale is more overtly folk-inflected. (Incidentally, Latgale is a province of Latvia and some of the texts set by the composer are by a writer from Latgale.) This is particularly evident in some passages in which the solo voices are accompanied by the bagpipe’s drone, and in others in which the singing is clearly redolent of folk song. This, as the other pieces in this release, is tuneful, colourful and quite straightforward, which does not exclude some heartfelt emotions and some simple joyfulness on Christmas Eve.

Brigita Ritmane’s delightful Christ is Born, setting poems of Valda Mora and of her father Andris Ritmanis, is a quite attractive piece of music in a simple, eminently singable idiom sometimes bringing John Rutter to mind, particularly so in the catchy tunes of the first movement which is joyfully restated at the end to round off this lovely work.

Though in three short movements, Anita Kuprisa’s Star, Night and Miracle unfolds seamlessly. The music again displays some folk-like inflections, as the musette-and-tabor in the first section, and is imbued with a fresh, child-like and most endearing innocence. The beautiful central section While Bethlehem Slumbers opens with children’s voices, later joined by the adults. The closing section, the most developed of the whole work, is also most varied following the different moods of the fine poem by Elza Kezbere. A light-footed dance brings the work to its joyful conclusion.

Hallowed Eve by Alvils Altmanis is also in three short movements, of which the central one incidentally sets Teodors Zeifert’s fine poem Golden Dew fell through the Night also set by Akerberga in her Winter Cantata, though this is a quite different setting. The final section opens with an almost operatic duo for soprano and tenor (hints of Finzi here) supported by humming wordless chorus.

Aldiņš’ five-part cantata This Sacred Night is based on a well-known carol Mortals keep silence. As a whole, the music here is somewhat more traditional, and again tuneful and superbly crafted, with more than a hint of folk song. The second section The Angel of the Lord (after St Luke) is a beautiful song for mezzo-soprano whereas the fourth section is a recitative (after St Matthew) for tenor. The bipartite final section first sings of Christ’s future and death on Golgotha and ends with a reprise of the opening carol.

This is my second Christmas offering. No great masterpieces here, but five very fine and attractive works in accessible, tuneful and colourful idiom of great charm and refreshing simplicity. Excellent performances by all concerned who again obviously play and sing with all their heart. Well worth hearing, as a change from the more traditional Christmas compilations.

Hubert Culot



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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