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Nature and The Soul - Latvian Choral Classics
Emīls DĀRZIŅŠ (1875-1910)
Long Ago [3:29]
Moonbeams [3:23]
The Broken Pines [3:12]
Emilis MELNGAILIS (1874–1954)
Nature and the Soul [3:53]
Latvian Requiem - Move Gently and Quietly [11:31]
Jānis ZĀLĪTIS (1884–1943)
The Goblet on the Isle of the Dead [4:46]
Jēkabs GRAUBIŅŠ (1886–1961)
Night Has Entered the Forest [3:01]
Jāzeps VĪTOLS (1863-1948)
The Day is Ending [1:40]
The Moon Lied [1:19]
The Enchanted Forest [3:43]
The Dwarves and the Old Man of the Forest [4:05]
The King and the Mushroom [2:32]
David Before Saul [8:05]
The Sun’s Revelry [3:23]
Latvian Radio Choir/Kaspars Putniņš
rec. St John’s Church, Riga, 2016
SKANI 054 [58:48]

I have just recently heard this mixed voice choir under its other conductor, Sigvards Kļava, in two Rachmaninov concerts at the BBC Proms (review review). I was keen to hear them again. As it turns out Mr Kļava - who is the choir's Music Director and Principal Conductor - undertook the recording, editing, mixing and mastering for this admirable hour-long disc. The music is tonal and moves between serenity, anthemic intensity and the rounded sleep of the just.

The names of Jāzeps Vītols (review and review) and Emīls Dārziņš (review) are familiar to me; the others not. Dārziņš' three songs are luminous settings with Moonbeams reminding me of both Rachmaninov's and the Orthodox Church's Serene light. The Broken Pines is a work of fervour and heavens-scorching drama - a wonderful competition display piece with a good narrative infusion.

Emilis Melngailis's Nature and the Soul, which gives its name to the disc, is rather Sibelian. It is touched with the choral versions of Finlandia (as was Thy Tomb, O Saviour in the recent BBC Prom) and Rakastava but with a more blinding radiance. Melngailis's Latvian Requiem is in four movements: it is a more subdued reverential piece, as may be expected. The movements are: Move Gently and Quietly - Gently, Slowly - The Sun is Setting - Doomsday. If anything, the style adopted here parallels that of Rubbra's church music. It is provocative to end with Doomsday but this example is lively, turbulent even, and with invigorating attack from the sopranos.

Jānis Zālītis's visionary musical scene is both impressionistic and ecstatic, which contrasts with the simpler warmth displayed by Jēkabs Graubiņš. Graubiņš is described as a folklorist. He made choral arrangements of Latvian folk songs. Night Has Entered the Forest is a captivating velvety glow of a piece.

We end with seven pieces by Vītols who taught at the St Petersburg Conservatory (1886-1918) and moved in the same circles as Glazunov and Lyadov. Given the titles it is clear that Vītols was enthused by Latvian folk-tales and the nationalistic supernatural. His settings have soft undulant contours and a swaying motion is not unusual in his settings. David Before Saul has a not entirely unexpected ecclesiastical character - a supplicatory hymn lit with diffused sunlight. The choir say their farewells with The Sun’s Revelry. These are dancing revels that end with a gentle smile. There's some stabbing fortissimo singing along the way. This choir is a virtuoso group at every technical and artistic level.

The liner-notes are by Arnolds Klotiņš who writes: "Latvian romantic choral music, enriched by symbolism and Art Nouveau ideas, saw its golden era then and the level attained by Latvia’s choirs today is inconceivable without this foundation.". The essay is in Latvian and English. The sung words are given in Latvian with parallel English translation. Ideal.

Gentle music, touchingly sung and introducing non-Latvian listeners to some lustrous delights.

Rob Barnett



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