Nature and the Soul
This is a collection of Latvian choral music selected in honour of the centenary of the independence of Latvia. As conductor Kaspars Putninš says in his introductory note: ‘The majority of Latvian conductors have probably grown up with these songs whose imagery, sound and colour are deeply encoded in our consciousness … Working on this album, I have felt as if I am writing a love letter.’
It sounds that way. One is gripped by the very first track, the atmospheric, insistent prophecy that is ‘Senatne’ (‘Long Ago’) by Emīls Dārziņš (1875-1910), every nuance of which is captured by the Latvian Radio Choir. Did they weep while recording the second song by Darzinš, ‘Mēness staro stīgo’ (‘Moonbeams’)? I did. They sing with every fibre of their being.
There is, in fact, something extraordinary about Latvian choirs: they sing as though their very lives depend on it, and when they are singing Latvian music their immediate connection with the language makes this even more apparent. There is both Nordic clarity and Slavic profundity to be heard in the sound of a Latvian choir, and there is also what I might call a poetic sense, an instinctive knowledge of how to phrase. All this is beautifully, movingly evident on this disc. All five of the composers recorded here are outstanding but what stays with me is the music by Darzinš and the wonderful, disturbing ‘Biķeris miroņu salā’ (‘The Goblet on the Isle of the Dead’) by Jānis Zālītis. At all events, this is a celebration of Latvian choral music that should not be missed. As Putninš also writes, ‘Many returns of the day, dear Latvia!’