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Imants KALNIŅŠ (b.1941)
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]

Imants Kalniņš was born in Riga in 1941, and his three-pronged career embraces composer, musician and politician. He has a sizeable roster of compositions to his name, including six symphonies, several operas, oratorios, cantatas, songs and a substantial amount of film and theatre music. He's also known for his rock music, and during the 1960s led the Liepāja rock band 2xBBM, popular for its heartfelt songs and hippy lifestyle. Throughout his life he’s been very much a free spirit, charting his own course. His youth was spent frequenting the cafés in Riga, where he mixed with intellectuals, poets, painters and theatre people. His brother Victors is a poet, drawn to American literature and culture. This directed the brothers towards the rock phenomenon, and in 1971 they collaborated, Victors providing the libretto, on Ei, jūs tur! (Hey, you there!), the first rock opera in the USSR.

The Concerto for Cello and Orchestra is, strictly speaking, a student work, though you wouldn't think so. It reveals a wealth of ideas and is imaginatively scored, with a solo cello part that’s expertly constructed. The year was 1963, and Kalniņš was in his third year at the Latvian Conservatory of Music, where he had begun composition studies in 1960 with Ādolfs Skulte. The dark, mellow timbres of the cello seem an apt medium to convey something of the prevailing mood in Latvia in those dark post-war years. Life was grim and people were fearful of the Soviet occupation. Like much of his early music, the influences of Shostakovich and Prokofiev are present. The first half of the work is a lament – doleful and sombre with a tangible underlying pain. Midway, Kalniņš ups the rhetoric, and the music becomes more animated, working up to a shattering climax. At the end, the music just dies away. Marta Sudraba’s eloquent rendition truly captures the melancholy and sadness that pervade this powerful score.

The Fourth Symphony dates from 1973 and is sometimes referred to as the "Rock" Symphony. In the first movement, Kalniņš’ quotes his early rock ballad Seven Sorrowful Stars. With an orchestra supplemented by Aivars Meijers on bass guitar and Vilnis Krieviņš on drums, the relentless ostinato rhythms and bolero drift of the opener have a hypnotic quality, culminating in a potent climax, then tapering off. The effect is spellbinding. The second movement introduces an element of calm, which is balm to the ears. A martial element eventually enters, adding a modicum of contrast. In the third movement, melancholy solemnity, declaimed by the brass, gives way to a more optimistic and jubilant mein. The finale's fragmented structure failed to win me over.  Despite several listenings, I was unable to find a coherent thread in the episodic fabric of the movement. The original version of the finale included a vocalist singing eleven short love poems by Kelly Cherry, an American poet. At the time, this was censored by the authorities on account of its being an English text, and a horn and string part was substituted for the vocal line. This latter version is used in this recording.

The Liepāja Symphony Orchestra under Atvars Lakstīgala gives superbly crafted and immensely polished performances. The Skani engineers have secured excellent sound and balance, allowing instrumental detail, so vital in this music, to be clearly heard. The liner notes are exemplary.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Rob Barnett



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