To those who have haunted the pages of Melodiya catalogues
or chased down the Russian LPs from sources elusive and obscure, the
name of the composer Skulte will ring a bell or two. In fact the Skulte
they know is almost certainly the symphonist Adolfs Skulte (he wrote
nine) not his elder brother Bruno. Resisting the temptation to write
at length about the glowing lyrico-symphonic mastery of Adolfs Skulte
(1909-2000, at times rather like a super-melodic version of Valentin
Silvestrov or Allan Pettersson), let us turn to Bruno.
Bruno was born in Kiev of a Latvian father and Italian
mother. In 1922 the family returned to the newly independent Latvia
and there Bruno studied with the composer
Jāzeps Vītols and with Jānis Mediņ. He studied
also in Germany with Leo Blech (whose brother Harry conducted the London
Mozart Players) and Clemens Krauss. He worked for Latvian Radio and
conducted the Liepāja Opera and the Latvian Radio Orchestra.
Having weathered the slaughterous storms of the Nazi invasion in the
late 1940s he conducted in the GDR. In 1949 he moved to the USA which
became his home until his death in 1976.
His works include an opera, The Heiress of Volkači
(1947), two orchestral genre pieces: The Jester, a
symphonic scherzo and Refusal and various cantatas no doubt prompted
by his professional work with émigré choirs in the USA.
There are, in addition, film scores, many songs, works for organ and
piano and chamber music.
The works here are Daugava for narrator, soloists,
choirs and orchestra. Ganiņ
is for soloists, choirs, recorder and three kokles (we'll come to that
in a moment) and the Balāde
- a piece for orchestra alone. The choirs in each case include a children's
Daugava, while termed a 'symphonic poem - mystery'
is not what one normally expects from a work carrying the label ‘symphonic
poem’. It is in fact a work in which melodrama and choral fantasy meet.
In the recording of this work I single out for special praise the sturdily
bronze-polished tone of baritone Samsons Izjumovs. He has the ringing
heroism of the young Jorma Hynninen. Indeed he would make a fine Kullervo.
You will also be impressed by Lelde Vikmane whose eldritch and sinister
narration is acted with relish against the background of music that
suggests the malign presence of Baba Yaga and of Poul Schierbeck's
What of the music of Daugava? It is rather as
if Mussorgsky (Boris, Night on the Bare Mountain and Dawn
on the Neva from Kovantschina) had lived on with powers unclouded
by vodka and had drunk instead great draughts of music from Sibelius
(Luonnotar and some of the more straightforwardly expressed songs)
softened a little by Borodin. At times the music runs true to the form
of a nationalist pictorial cantata; something akin to Stanford's Phaudrig
Crohoore but infinitely more lucid in its textures and lyrical apparatus.
The soloists take on the personas of folk heroes from Latvian history
and myths. Daugava is the river, mother and carrier of souls to the
sea, telling of seven hundred years of oppression and death for Latvia.
The narrator stresses the foreboding sounding for all the world like
the acted oratory of Fibich’s Hippodamia trilogy (Supraphon). In track
3 at 2.40 a lovely dawn floats upwards in a style that is Baxian and
suggestive of Patrick Hadley’s vocal writing. In track 3 there is a
gently cradled singing (4.52) which sounds a little like Hanson's Lament
of Beowulf with infusions of Sibelius’s Kullervo. Those soft
sour crippled fanfares are the same as those beloved of Bax. The enchanted
buoyancy of the pianissimo lends to the strings the ethereal sense of
Vaughan Williams' setting of ‘immense and silent moon’ in Dona Nobis
is another folk-style cantata. It is pastoral sounding for
all the world like a simplified Baltic version of Patrick Hadley's The
Hills crossed accessible contributions from the children’s and adults’
choirs. Much play is delightfully made of the
recorder (played by Dagnija Tuča) and three kokles (a kind of psaltery
like a zither but with a balalaika/guitar accent). The choirs have a
dancing and swinging lightness of the sort we associate with John Rutter.
Folk-naif attractions draw us in as do the highly skilled orchestral
arrangements made by Canteloube in the Songs of the Auvergne (best
heard in the version sung by Netania Davrath on the late Seymour Solomons'
recently defunct Vanguard-Omega label). There is also a courtly grace
reminiscent of Britten's dances from Gloriana but also with the
light-footed maidens and troubadour smiles of the middle movement of
Janis Ivanovs' Violin Concerto. We even here a pretty fair shot at the
English Morris Dance! The dances in the earlier acts of Howard Hanson's
Merry Mount have a similar innocent quality.
The disc is rounded out with the only purely orchestral
track - Balāde par kareivi, Kas
Neatgriezās. This is a very early work. It sighs and
yearns in an orchestral skein spun from material derivative of the sensual
swoon of Tchaikovsky and early Scriabin yet with sufficient translucency
to suggest some contact (perhaps reading the scores) with the music
of Ravel. There is also something of Janis Ivanovs' Fourth Symphony
Atlantis (on Campion) about this score. Only towards the end
does the music become arrogant and blatant. The final bars chart the
exhausted decay of arrogance into a funeral elegy linked to the finale
of Tchaikovsky's Pathétique.
The sung and spoken texts are given in Latvian and
English, side by side. The notes are full and of excellent quality.
They are by Ligita Sarkane and Maris Kristapsons. Maris has done so
much to broaden and deepen my knowledge of Baltic and Scandinavian music
- a gift I have inadequately reciprocated.
The choirs have much of which to be proud. Their tone
is silky, their unanimity of attack enviable and their application to
the words intelligent. The full membership of the choirs and orchestra
is listed in the booklet.
There is an unaffected innocence about his music. I
hope you will be tempted to try it.
Anyone interested in ordering has two options (both listed below). I
have listed the numbers used to document which recording is the most
recent. Latvians Online accepts credit card orders directly through
their website; NYLCC does not. The choir's website (www.nylatvianconcertchoir.org)
has a section featuring this and other CDs, including a few sound clips.
If you need any further information or have any questions, please don't
hesitate to contact me.
For the NY Latvian Concert Choir, Inc.
Christmas By The Amber Sea(NYLCC003);
Christmas In Latvia(NYLCC001)
Available from: email@example.com
$12.00USD per disc (plus postage)
630 23rd Avenue N.W.
New Brighton, MN 55112, USA
Christmas By The Amber Sea;
Christmas In Latvia;
Available from: firstname.lastname@example.org
$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