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Lūcija GARŪTA (1902-1977)
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
SKANI 056 [73:22]

The music on this CD is by a female composer working during the central third of the 20th Century, and after WW2 in a land forcibly colonised by the Soviets. Her musical style had to undergo an equally forced change to accommodate the dictates of ‘Socialist Realism’ in music. From what I can discover, things in Latvia were not so dreadful in that respect as was the case in Russia itself, where composers such as Prokofiev and Shostakovitch had to bend the knee to political correctness of a chilling and killing kind. Lucija Garuta did bend the knee, however, and so it seems that in embracing Latvian Folk Music, her post-war music became simpler and more diatonic than what had gone before. Thus the piano concerto shows none of the Scriabinic influence heard occasionally in the 4 Preludes dating from 1927-29. However, even there we do not find Scriabin ‘in extremis’.

The three movement piano concerto which begins the disc dates from 1951, and whatever else may be said about the piece and its style, delicately feminine it is not. Nor does it seem to take much, if anything, from Russian piano concertos that were being played then, such as those by Prokofiev, Shostakovitch, Khachaturian or even Rachmaninov. Yes, it has something of the last named style in so far as the piano is used as a virtuoso instrument, and it has no difficulty in presenting us with quite lush tunes driven by the piano, with a full ‘late romantic’ orchestra in support. But not for a moment does it sound like him, and there is none of Prokofiev’s brittleness nor Shostakovitch’s gloom or forced brightness.

When Garuta had completed all but the orchestration, she had to present it to the Board of The Composers’ Union of Soviet Latvia for approval (by this time she was teaching theoretical disciplines at the Latvian Conservatory). They said “it cultivated subjective, tragic feelings that were of no use to anybody, and therefore listeners do not need such a composition”. It seems that she ignored them, orchestrated it, and then presented it again, when it was hailed as the “most successful piano concerto composed in Soviet Latvia”. The ‘comrade composers’ may have realised by then that the second movement is a series of variations on two Latvian Folk songs, and it makes a notable impact as the variations lead up to an impressive climax with the piano thundering the tune accompanied by the full orchestra. All-in-all, it is an enjoyable work and, whilst I don’t find the material to be exceptionally memorable, nonetheless it displays a full-blooded late romanticism which ensures that it presents no difficulty to my ears. The balance between piano and orchestra is excellent and the recording is suitably full.

The remaining works on the disc are all for piano solo, and begin with four Preludes, each of which shares a phrase, used almost as a leitmotif for ’longing’; indeed the third and fourth preludes were danced under the titles ’Sorrowful Longing’ and ‘Turbulent Longing’. The second of the four rises to almost Rachmaninovian levels of impassioned utterance and deserves to be more widely known.

The remaining long work on the CD is the 19 minute Variations on ‘The Soldiers are Sorrowful’, a Latvian Folk Song. This was the work that she played most often in concerts, and the song itself tells of the conversation between a sister and her brother prior to his departure to defend the homeland. It seems that the work is still popular in Latvia to the present day. It is easy on the ear and makes considerable demands on the pianist as the variations move from tender to impassioned.

The other two short works are equally catching, and the Meditation was originally for orchestra. It slowly rises to a fervent climax, and I rather wish that I could hear the orchestral version.

Jim Westhead

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank (Recording of the Month)



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