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Imants KALNIŅŠ (b.1941)
The Sound of Freedom
Symphony No. 4 (1973) [49:57]
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (1963) [19:55]
Marta Sudraba (cello), Aivars Meijers (bass guitar), Vilnis Krievins (drums)
Liepāja Symphony Orchestra/Atvars Lakstīgala
rec. 2014, Liepaja Latvian Society House
SKANI LMIC042 [69:40]

Riga-born Imants Kalniņš came to prominence in the 1960s as a composer who could spin rock music with classical music without killing the spark in each. His contempt for boundaries was also coupled with a political activism that brought him into contact with Latvia's Soviet authorities. His immersion in rock included participation in the Liepāja rock band 2xBBM and writing rock songs. He also has six symphonies, operas, oratorios, cantatas and music for choir and cinema soundtracks to his name. Alfrēds Kalniņš (1879–1951) was a notable Latvian composer whose opera Banuta has been recorded. Alfrēds' son was the Latvian-Canadian composer Janis Kalniņš (1904-2000). Neither Janis nor Alfreds appear to have any familial connection with Imants.

Here Imants Kalniņš’ extensive Fourth Symphony is coupled with the single-movement Cello Concerto.

The Fourth Symphony - said to be the first "Rock Symphony" written in the Eastern Bloc - is in four movements running just short of fifty minutes. Its opening Allegretto tirelessly and kinetically pounds away at the listener in something approaching an eruptive hybrid of Ravel's Boléro and the climax of the march movement of Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony. The remorselessly driven mammoth drum-kit ostinato is irresistible. The following Andante tranquillo also has a machine element but here the order of the day is music-box gentle and a nostalgic soft-focus tenderness. This tremulous romantic mixture is very accessible. This builds to brief moments where the example has been set by the first movement's merciless martial rhythms. The third movement is a Grave opening with a sturdy brassy anthemic figure before Kalniņš' trademark martellato tendencies resurface. The movement surges high into widescreen magnificence. This will certainly appeal to anyone with a taste for spectacular movie music. The stern magnificence of the Moderato rubato finale is carried at a confidingly understated level that breathes integrity and rewarded struggle. There are also blazing brass-led paragraphs. The music-box nostalgia of the second movement makes a brief return before a toe-tapping, big-band jam session where you can feel Kalniņš letting himself and his audience go in heaven-ascending delirium. This finale is more episodic and varied than the preceding movements. The composer surprises us by ending in an almost inert fading-to-silence reminiscence of the motoric rhythms of the first movement.

The much more compact Cello Concerto is in a single movement. It is the composer's first symphonic work. It begins with the solo instrument. The cello reaches out with a long strung-out, articulately passionate melody. This is met with bleak and softly sorrowing melodic gestures from the orchestra. The solo returns, typically soulful, but at 5:00 finds an optimistically cantering animation. At about 11:00 the music becomes heatedly lively with a searing edge and a much more impulsive yet businesslike rhythmic drive. Although there's nothing approaching the mammoth rock-marathons of the Fourth Symphony, its Waltonian patter and Eisler-style sardonics push things forward. This presses on until quiet intoning from cello and orchestra return whence the music set out. The work's cycle and circle is complete. Leons Reiters (1926-1976), a composition pupil of Ādolfs Skulte and Hilding Rosenberg, conducted the premieres of both this Cello Concerto and Kalniņš’ First Symphony. Will we ever hear the first three symphonies, I wonder?

The performances of both works feel excellent and the recordings, called on in extremes in the symphony, report plenty of moving impact and exciting detail.

The well constructed and usefully detailed liner essay is by composer Imants Zemzaris who has contributed to many of the LMIC CD issues.

I understand that there are also commercial recordings of Kalniņš’ Fifth and Sixth Symphonies (the latter setting Rabindranath Tagore) and his cantata Rita Celiens. I would like to hear them. As for the Fourth Symphony, this is not the work's first recording. A Latvian Radio CD of the work's original version with a vocal solo finale was reviewed here in 2002. Yet another Kalniņš Fourth Symphony (orchestra only) can be found on a Bis CD (BIS-1052 CD) issued in 2000. There the work runs to 43:49. The coupling is Jan Järvlepp's Garbage Concerto (1996), "A Concerto for Recycled Garbage and Orchestra".

Rob Barnett



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