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hitherto unrecorded Latvian music

 

RECORDING OF THE MONTH

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Lūcija GARŪTA (1902-1977)
Music for Piano
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1951) [35:58]*
Four Preludes (1927/1929) [12:01]
Meditation (1935) [4:39]
Variations on the Latvian Folk Song "The Soldiers are Sorrowful" (1933) [19:18]
The Little Doll's Lulling Song (1943) [1:30]
Reinis Zariņš (piano)
Liepāja Symphony Orchestra/Atvars Lakstīgala*
rec. Liepāja Latvian Society House (concerto); Latvian Radio, Studio 1, no dates given
SKANI 056 [74:01]

It's regrettable that the Latvian born pianist and composer Lūcija Garūta has been neglected on disc. In fact I could only find one other recording of her music, a cantata, on the obscure Baltic Records Group. It's laudable that the enterprising LMIC/SKANI label has issued this recording of her piano music. Some biographical information will be useful. She was born in Riga and, from 1919-1925, studied at the Latvian Conservatory with such notables as Jāzeps Vītols and Jānis Mediņš. I was interested to read that she embarked on her course the very year the Conservatory was established. Significantly, it was only the previous year that the Republic of Latvia came into being on 18 November 1918, gaining independence from Russia at the end of World War 1. Garūta became one of the independent state's first female trained composers and pianists. Her studies took her abroad, and in Paris she came under the tutelage of Alfred Cortot and Isador Philipp for piano and Paul Le Flem for composition. She later had some contact with Paul Dukas at the École Normale de Musique. She could thus claim an illustrious pedigree. Back home she worked as a pianist. In 1940 Soviet forces occupied Latvia and the country lost its short-lived independence, for the time being at least.  Garūta took something of a defiant stance, organizing and playing concerts at a time of mass deportation of many of her fellow countrymen to Siberia. After the war she resumed a teaching post at the Latvian Conservatory until the 1970s. She died in 1977.

Garūta dedicated her Piano Concerto to the memory of her niece Lailiņa who died of a heart condition in 1950, aged only twelve. By all accounts, the two were very close. The composer titled the second movement ‘In memoriam’. When the Concerto was initially presented to the authorities, it was rejected as too subjective and introspective. Garūta ploughed on regardless with the orchestration, resubmitted it in 1955, and this time it was not only accepted, but judged as one of Latvia’s finest. It was premiered later that year.

The opening movement is dramatic and intensely rhetorical, yet it does have its moments of sombre, reflective lyricism. Occasionally I thought I heard echoes of Tchaikovsky. The composer draws on two Latvian funeral folk songs for the second movement, which she skillfully crafts into a set of double variations. The mood is austere and darkly impassioned. The finale begins in solemn vein with a Maestoso. This eventually leads into a sprightly, animated Scherzando, infusing elements of light and hope into the music. She weaves in some delicate woodwind passages at this point. There’s a cadenza, before the work ends in fairly triumphant mode.

The Four Preludes for solo piano are early works, dating from the late 1920s. They bear a strong Scriabin influence. The first in B minor is a gloomy affair, much of it set in the lower reaches of the keyboard. The E major, which follows, is my personal favorite. It's a lush, romantic piece of fervid ardour. The last two Preludes were later choreographed and performed by the composer's sister Erna at the Anna Ašmane School of Music and Rhythmics under the titles 'Sorrowful Longing' (C sharp minor) and 'Turbulent Longing' (D flat major). The Meditation of 1935 was first realized in orchestral form, before this piano reduction. It has a hymn-like solemnity, but cumulatively builds up into a ravishingly passionate climax.

The composer had a particular liking for variation form, and the Variations on the Latvian Folk Song The Soldiers are Sorrowful is, as its title suggests, serious and almost dour. Here Garūta uncannily foretells her nation’s future fate. It was premiered by her in March 1933, and became the work she played most often in her concerts. The variations show deft skill, imagination and ingenuity. The work is lengthy at almost twenty minutes duration. The CD ends with the delightful miniature The Little Doll's Lulling Song of 1943. The piece has added poignancy, being composed as a name's day present for her niece Lailiņa.

Reinis Zariņš’s commanding technique and formidable musicianship are compelling, as is his enthusiastic advocacy of these richly rewarding scores. I was won over by his superb tonal shading and impressionistic colouring. This is what this music needs, and it was served accordingly. The Liepāja Symphony Orchestra under Atvars Lakstīgala provides sensitive support in the Concerto. All of this comes in first class sound and balance. This constitutes a fitting tribute on the 40th anniversary of Lūcija Garūta’s death .

Stephen Greenbank

 

 




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