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Latvian Music Series - Volume 1
Romualds JERMAKS (b.1931)
Five Latvian Folk Songs (one piano four hands) [11:15]
Talivaldis KENINS (b. 1919)
Sonata for Two Pianos [18:06]

Imants MEZARAUPS (b. 1958)
Deux Postludes après Chopin (one piano four hands) [3:53]
Selga MENCE (b.1953)
Songs for Two Pianos (2000) [17:53]
Imants ZEMZARIS (b. 1951)
Three Sisters
- Fantasy for Two Pianos (1975) [9:23]
Dace APERANS (b. 1951)
Haiku for Two Pianos [7:40]
Andris VECUMIEKS (b.1964)
Quasi Campanella - paraphrase of an etude by N Paganini - F Liszt (one piano four hands) [5:33]

Paraphrase after J P Rameau's 'Two Hens' [6:11]
Antra and Normunds Visne (piano duo)
rec. Latvian Radio, no details given.
ANGELOK1 CD-7701 [79:57]
Latvian Music Series - Volume 2
Juris ABOLS (b. 1950)
Trio for flute, violin and piano [18:14]
Arturs GRINUPS (1931-1989)
Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano [19:54]

Vilnis SMIDBERGS (b.1944)
Trio-Sonata for Flute, Violin and Piano [16:00]
Imants ZEMZARIS (b.1951)
Marvel Pieces
for violin, viola, cello and piano [16:39]
Bulavs Chamber Ensemble: Juris Abols (flute); Janis Bulavs (violin); Edmunds Goldsteins (piano) (Abols); Janis Bulavs (violin); Leons Veldre (cello); Aldis Piepins (piano) (Grinups, Smidbergs); Janis Bulavs (violin); Olavs Stals (viola); Leons Veldre (cello); Aldis Piepins (piano) (Zemzaris)
rec. 2001-2004, Latvian Radio. DDD
ANGELOK1 CD-7702 [70:47] 

Experience Classicsonline

How much better documented are these two separately available Latvian music discs than their Ukrainian brethren on the same label.

The two piano/piano duo disc presents Jermaks' Five Latvian Folk Songs in irresistible romantic style - like a sentimental yet poetic reflection of Grieg's folk tunes. These are playful and delightful pieces. Remarkable is the deliquescence of the Silver Rain was Falling (tr. 4). Jermaks has a particular interest in his country's folksongs. Liepaja-born Kenins' wild Stravinskian, pianola-accented Sonata at times sounds like an escapee from Nancarrow and Messiaen although the plangent and clouded Largo is another matter altogether. Mezaraups' Chopin Postludes have that same pianola complexity although the music also prompted thoughts of Sorabji. The Second Postlude is a much more refractory work  than the First. Mezaraups is based in Philadelphia where he was born. Mence's Songs are Songs of the Winter Stars (chilly like Urmas Sisask), Song of the Blue Hills (warmingly and potently brooding - a remarkable piece); Song of the Stones (wiry music with much reaching inside the piano for plucked string effects); Song of the Grass (hesitant and trembling). Mence was born in Liepaja. Zemzaris's Three Sisters Fantasy is derived from Chekhov's play. It hammers insistently - a stony ruthless carillon yet then surprisingly embraces a sentimentally frank melody of potent commercial power at 3.40. This is before it disappears into a shiver of fragile dissonance and bell shards. Zemzaris is a native of Riga. Aperans' two Haiku are in one case quietly mesmeric and in the other icily mysterious - a touch of Messiaen and gamelan here. Aperans is from Winnipeg. Vecumieks makes playful fun out of the Campanella and Two Hens. He was born in Riga. 

Good notes and a fine and generously packed anthology from instantly accessible to tougher yet rewarding. 

The music on the second disc owes at least part of its make-up to the Latvian composer Adolfs Skulte. Skulte wrote at least ten  symphonies and the few I have heard speak of a superheated dense lyricism rather like an updated and Nordicised version of Joseph Marx's Naturtrilogie and Herbstsymphonie. Time for a new recording project please. All four of the composers here were pupils in Skulte's composition class. Abols’ Trio is witty, fragile, insistently patterned, stony, enigmatic and wrapped in chilly melodic tendrils. It sounds in some measure like a blend of Stravinsky and Copland in chamber mode with some of the Sargasso concentration to be found in the symphonies of Allan Pettersson. Grinups' three movement Trio is a tempestuous affair with conflict as the patent driving force. There is a brutality about some of this writing leavened only by a Tippett-like bliss of lyricism, as for instance in the final andante con moto. Smidbergs is a member of the Bulavs Ensemble. His single movement Trio-Sonata is hauntingly fine, wispy and Ravelian at one level but there are outbursts of violence and Penderecki-style whispered confidences which discreetly slalom and ululate. Smidbergs has two symphonies to his name as well as two works termed Concerto-Symphony. Such is the concentration evident from this writing that I would very much welcome the opportunity to hear more. Zemzaris’s four Marvel Pieces include a paranoiac tango (Crazy Love), a Grappelli-style smooch (Floridian Beaches), a primitivist parodic waltz (Melancholic Waltz) and at the end a return to obsessive rhythms (Love's Craziness). The Zemzaris is the most instantly accessible of the four works. 

Another varied selection providing insights into Latvian music - pretty well documented and superbly recorded. I hope that Angelok1 follow up with at least several orchestral anthologies.

Rob Barnett


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