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Alfreds KALNIŅŠ (1879-1951)
Moments Musicaux
7 Pieces (1913-15) [18:01]
7 Poems (1917) [20:23]
4 Capriccietti (1946-49) [9:18]
3 Small Pieces for The Album ‘For the Youth’ (1949) [5:24]
Toms Ostrovskis (piano)
rec. 2018, Latvian Radio Studio 1
SKANI LMIC069 [53:08]

Tuneful and lyrical miniatures, is how I would describe the music here. The composer Alfreds Kalniņš could also add to his curriculum vitae the roles of organist, pianist and conductor. He studied with Anatoly Lyadov at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. His contribution to Latvian musical culture was immense, and his compositions embraced orchestral, opera, choral, ballet, piano, organ, and arrangements of folk song. He spent some years in New York freelancing as a choral conductor and teacher. His remaining years were lived back home in Riga.

The earliest works here are the 7 Pieces, written between 1913-1915, a time when Kalniņš had developed a heart disease. This in no way held him back from composing. The dedicatee of the first piece 'At a friend's grave' is Emīls Dārziņš (1875-1910), and the short work is a noble tribute, indeed, both tragic yet reflective. The triumphant No. 2 demands a degree of virtuosity from the performer. The dark hues of autumn permeate No. 3, whereas innocence and wide-eyed simplicity sum up No. 5. The set ends in grand style with No. 7, which has a sort of Pictures at an Exhibition flavour.

Not that long after, Kalniņš composed his 7 Poems, and they certainly reveal a more competent and adventurous hand, as well as plumbing deeper emotional depths. The two outer Poems engender warmth and comfort, and radiate tender lyricism. So also does No. 3, offering some soothing balm after the restless undercurrents of No.2. The fourth is doleful, and one could be forgiven, after a blind tasting, for believing the fifth to be the work of Rachmaninov. I find the exquisite chromatic harmonies of No. 6 particularly appealing.

Fast forward to the late 1940s and we have the 4 Capriccietti. Brief dances and novelettes best sums them up. The fourth is notable for its chromatic density. The 3 Small Pieces for the Album ‘For the Youth’ makes history in being the first set of children's pieces penned by a Latvian composer. Kalniņš took his inspiration from the Op. 68 pieces of the same name by Schumann. They gained instant fame, apparently, with two editions rapidly selling out. The sparking ripples of the brook in No. 2 are vivid. In No. 3, Ostrovskis mimics the Old Kokle player - the kokle being a Latvian plucked string instrument.

Admirers of piano music on the lookout for something new will find plenty to gratify them here. Pianists might discover many attractive morsels to add to their repertoire. Ostrovskis’ performances are engaging, and he achieves a convincing range of tone colours. In addition, he’s been blessed with a superb sounding piano and an attractive venue with an agreeable acoustic.

Stephen Greenbank

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