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Born in 1906
Volfgangs DĀRZIŅŠ (1906-1962)
Piano Concerto No. 2 (1938) [29:12]
Jānis IVANOVS (1906-1983)‎
Symphony No. 20 (1981) [28:30]
Reinis Zarins (piano)
Latvian National Symphony Orchestra/Andris Poga
rec. Great Guild Concert Hall, Riga, 2015
SKANI LMIC048 [57:42]

1934 was a significant year for music of the British Isles; it saw the deaths of three towering figures, Elgar, Delius and Holst. 1906 was a landmark in the timeline of music in Latvia for it was the year when the composers Volfgangs Dārziņš and Jānis Ivanovs were born. This disc presents two sharply contrasted works, one by each composer.

Riga-born Volfgangs Dārziņš was the son of Emīls Dārziņš (1875-1910), himself a composer. The Argentinean Mozart Camargo Guarnieri and Dārziņš junior were named after Mozart but in the case of the Latvian composer the forename was used. During the Great War, Dārziņš lived in Nizhny Novgorod and Saratov but returned to Latvia in 1919. Volfgangs became a student at the Latvian Conservatory where both Ivanovs and Dārziņš were composition pupils of Jāzeps Vītols.
While Dārziņš was writing his Piano Concerto No. 2, Ivanovs was engaged in his longest symphonic work, the fascinating Symphony No. 4 Atlantis. Both works carry the stigmata of Scriabin but at different stages in that composer's development. Dārziņš' blithely romantic and carefree Second Piano Concerto moves between Delian warmth (listen to the woodland warmth of the opening) and the sort of irresistible melody found in Scriabin's still undervalued Piano Concerto. It's an attractive and sumptuous work with pages striking parallels with de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain. The Ivanovs Fourth Symphony - a very different work from the symphony No. 20 - was mystically accented by late Scriabin in much the same way that the early orchestral scores of Miaskovsky and Cuclin are affected.

Soviet domination of the Baltic states saw Dārziņš emigrating to the United States where he worked as a teacher and kept up his composing, especially of solo piano music. There was a revival of the Second Piano Concerto after the political thaw set in. This took place in Riga in November 1986 at the hands of Māris Zembergs with the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra directed by Imants Resnis. Darzins' First Piano Concerto dates from 1934. Perhaps Hyperion will think of recording the two Dārziņš works and pairing them with the 1930s piano concerto by another Latvian, Jānis Mediņš.

Ivanovs’ Symphony No. 20 was his last completed symphony. There is an incomplete 21st (1983) which was brought to fruition by Juris Karlsons, himself an orchestral composer. Ivanovs' other symphonies are legion: 1 Poema (1933); 2 (1937); 3 (1938); 4 Atlantis (1941); 5 (1945); 6 Latgalian (1949); 7 (1953); 8 (1956); 9 (1960); 10 (1963); 11 (1965); 12 Energica (1967); 13 Humana (1969); 14 (1971); 15 Ipsa (1972); 16 (1974); 17 (1976); 18 (1977); 19 (1979); 20 (1981); 21 (1983, unfinished). Add to these the tone poems Rainbow (1939) and Lacplesis (1957) as well as one concerto each for Violin (1951), Cello (1952), Piano (1959) and three string quartets (1932, 1946, 1961).

The eloquently sombre Symphony No. 20 is in four movements. The opening Moderato tranquillo is more bleak and troubled than tranquil. A sense of desperation is voiced by a bell tolling (6:50) and this affords a sort of healing. The Adagio drinks in more despair with tension offset in some measure by a cinematically voluptuous string melody (1:38). The lightly archaic dignity and nostalgia of the very short Menuetto - Reminiscenza recalls the writing of Peter Warlock, Arnold Rosner and Edmund Rubbra. The energetic and imposing Allegro con brio is also troubled but rises through adversity to a late-Sibelian magnificence. This is against the backcloth of a tumult itself beset by intimations of mortality. A beautiful valedictory glow lights the horizon and the bell from the first movement returns in an affecting gesture that brings this dark work to a close.

The Ivanovs is a fresh recording made in 2015. It is not the same as the 1982 recordings which appears on LMIC's all-Ivanovs CD LMIC035 where the conductor was Vassili Sinaisky - a name familiar from his long and distinguished years with the BBC Philharmonic and recordings on Chandos, not to mention his vitality-suffused BBC Phil performance of Moeran's G minor symphony (2009 Proms). The 20th Symphony has been fortunate indeed because it has also appeared on Naxos 8.555740 in harness with the Eighth Symphony.

The booklet notes are by Orests Silabriedis and are there in English and Latvian with the translation into English by Amanda Jātniece.

Two sharply contrasted tonal works by unduly neglected Latvian composers born in 1906.

Rob Barnett



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