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Chamber Symphonies
Andris DZENĪTIS (b. 1978)
Sin(fonietta) (2014) [21:06]
Anitra TUMŠEVICA (b. 1971)
Die Stimme (2012) [21:10]
Linda LEIMANE (b. 1989)
Guesstimations (2014) [21:18]
Sinfonietta Rīga/Normunds Šnē
rec. 2017, Latvian Radio Studio
SKANI LMIC059 [63:34]

The genre of the chamber symphony is not that common in Latvian music. Yet, having said that, a few examples can be found dating back to the 1960s, where names such as Artūrs Grīnups, Romualds Kalsons and Jānis Ivanovs, to mention just three, have provided examples. It is gratifying that the innovative Sinfonietta Rīga under their equally forward-looking and enterprising conductor Normunds Šnē should have commissioned some of the brightest and best home-grown talents to compose chamber symphonies for them. Three such are featured on this release. Several others have also answered the call, including Santa Ratniece, Nic Gotham, Kristaps Pētersons, Santa Bušs and Oskars Herliņš, giving us the mouth-watering prospect of a follow-up volume. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Transparent and lightly-textured orchestration is an attractive quality that permeates the Sin(fonietta) by Andris Dzenītis. Shot through with shafts of light and emitting a plenitude of hues, this work is almost an essay in tone colour. Brutality and fragility sit side by side. The effects used include staccato accents from the brass and interjections from the string sections. Flutes, clarinets and oboes apply further brush strokes to the canvas. At the end, the music dies away in a diaphanous glow.

Stippled dashes of ostinato collide with engineered metallic mayhem at the start of Anitra Tumševica's Die Stimme. Six minutes in a melodic sweep brings some respite. I picture a stark terrain inhabited by isolated individuals, until loud drum strokes shatter the calm. Disembodied human voices articulate ‘Die Stimme’  “... God’s voice knocking at the door ...”. Chiming bells in the distance call time at the end. This is a strikingly potent score, overwhelming in its effect. I’d like to hear more of this composer's music.

Linda Leiman’s Guesstimations packs a punch in the opening measures, which sound brutal and savage, giving the music a primordial flavour. She’s a master of imaginative orchestration, harnessing a fascinating range of percussion to achieve some startling effects. She takes the listener on a journey of discovery, like “the flow of a river” through “different kinds of energy or time zones”. It all makes for an arresting sound spectacle.

Each of the works lasts 21 minutes – I don't know if that was a prerequisite of the commission, and each reflects the unique style of the individual composer. I am very impressed with the results. The Sinfonietta Rīga are an outstanding ensemble and do full justice to these challenging works, with Normunds Šnē’s imaginative direction paying dividends. The excellent recording quality showcases these works to perfection.

Stephen Greenbank 

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