> Latvian Patriotic Cantatas [RB]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Latvian Patriotic Cantatas
Andrejs JURJANS (1856-1922)

To My Fatherland - cantata (1888)
Sing, Rejoice - cantata (1895)
Lucija GARUTA (1902-1977)

Lord, Thy Land is Burning (1944)
Jurjans: Lilija Greidane (sop); Leima Andersone-Silare (mz); Karlijs Zarins (ten), Sergejs Martinovs (bass); Latvian Radio Choir/Leonids Vigners
Garuta: Janis Sprogis (ten); Aivars Kranemanis (bar); Aivars Kalejs (organ), Chamber Choir - Ave Sol/Imants Kokars
rec 1980s, Latvian Radio.


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The often secular and sometimes patriotic cantata is a feature of Scandinavian music of the last century and the late-nineteenth. Look at the examples in the worklists of Nielsen, Sibelius and Alfvén. Many of the Sibelius works have been recorded (courtesy of Bis and Ondine) but none have made it into the limelight. The Nielsen works will surely rate recordings before too long.

The recordings were made in the 1980s after years when the Soviet grip had made them proscribed works.

Jurjans was known as 'Jurjanu Andrejs' for much of his life. A graduate of St Petersburg Conservatory he spent most of his life teaching at the Karkhov Conservatory. He returned to Latvia at the end of his life. He was the first Latvian composer of an orchestral work - his 1888 Song Festival March. He also wrote the first Latvian Cello Concerto - The Elegiac. There is a symphonic suite Latvian Dances. He was a dedicated collector of Latvian folk music.

Garuta was a pupil of Josep Vitols (himself a Rimsky pupil). An accomplished pianist the first half of her professional life was spent in the Eastern Bloc concert circuit. Illness terminated her concertising and she turned to composition with many works to her name. Her Piano Concerto (1952) is seemingly well worth a listen. Reportedly her music has emotional expressivity and Scriabinesque volatility. Her remarkable cantata, featured here, was written during World War 2. The premiere in 1944 at Riga must have been an extraordinary event with the composer at the organ and massed choirs conducted by Teodors Reiters. The notes claim it as a work expressing terror, suffering and desperation. It was banned by the Soviet authorities and on its candle-lit revival in 1990 at the 20th Latvian Song Festival with tens of thousands of singers produced a deeply moving effect.

Jurjans' To My Fatherland rings out with conviction but cannot avoid bombast and that rather suffocating air of the national anthem. Sing Rejoice is very catchy - lightly salted by the spirit of liberation and joy. Beethoven's Choral Fantasia and Egmont have some of the same quality. The enunciation of the Latvian Radio Choir could hardly be bettered.

While it is fitting that the two short Jurjans' cantatas are each allotted a single track it is a pity that the Garuta, which weighs in at two minutes over three quarters of an hour is also allocated just one track. It should have been subdivided.

The Garuta work is extremely imaginative and stirring benefiting from the steady golden tone of Kamerkoris 'Ave Sol' [e.g. 38.24]. The introduction to the work flames with the same tempestuous Old Testament aggression to be found in Havergal Brian's Siegeslied Symphony, and in parts of Franz Schmidt's Book of the Seven Seals and Rudolf Tobias's Jona Sendung. You may have heard the extraordinary Tobias work in February 2002, broadcast from Paris and also recorded on BIS (reviewed elsewhere on this site). Stormy rolling organ squalls goad the choir onto new assaults on the heavens. The ructions and protest are offset by many hushed devotional reflections - mostly invocational or prayer-like. Nobility and suffering seem to suffuse many of the solos including Sprogis's fine aria at 30.32.

The notes are by Professor Olgerts Gravitis and I apologise to him for leaning so heavily on his notes. These are in Latvian and English. The sung texts are not printed in either language - a pity.

Fervent and spiritual singing with only the To My Fatherland ringing bombastically hollow. The Garuta is an especially imaginative work punching well above the usual patriotic weight.

Rob Barnett




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