Wednesday 3 September 2014

There are so many fine gems beautifully sung by the Latvian Radio Choir directed by their Chief Conductor, Sigvards Kļava on Ondine’s new recording of works by Yuri Falik, Arturs Maskats and Georgy Sviridov that it deserves to be a very popular release

Of the names Yuri Falik, Arturs Maskats and Georgy Sviridov, only the last might be known to most people. Ondine have just released a recording of choral works by these three composers under the title Sacred Love.

ODE 1226-2
On this new release The Latvian Radio Choir  are directed by their Chief Conductor, Sigvards Kļava with soloists Ieva Ezeriete (soprano) and Aleksandrs Antoņenko (tenor).

Founded in 1940, this full time professional choir is the seven-time recipient of the Great Music award of the Latvian government and has collaborated with such well-known names as Stephen Layton, Tönu Kaljuste, Lars Ulrik Mortensen and Esa-Pekka Salonen.

The choir have made a number of recordings for Ondine including Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil and Liturgy of St. John Chrystostom, Rautavaara’s Missa a Capella, and Pēteris Vasks’ Plainscapes.

Russian composer and cellist, Yuri Falik (1936-2009) was born in Odessa where he studied cello before moving to the Leningrad Conservatory where he studied with Alexander Shtrimer (1888-1961). He later studied under the legendary Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007) and Boris Arapov (1905-1992). As well as composition he taught cello and instrumentation as well as directing the student’s chamber orchestra at the Leningrad Conservatory.

His short choral work A Stranger has the curious rhythm of a tango that moves quickly through all the six verses of Aleksandr Blok’s poem in a highly attractive and impressively sung setting.

Your Temple, Lord, a setting of verses by Nikolay Gumilyov, brings some of the atmosphere of a Russian Orthodox Church piece, complete with soprano rising over the choir in this contemplative, beautifully conceived setting, beautifully sung by Ieva Ezeriete and the choir.

A lovely rhythmic Habanera sets verses by Igor Severyanin with the opening words    ’In claret induced dreams I see rubies’ bringing a dramatic change of sentiment with its text. This choir are particularly fine in these sorts of pieces, beautifully controlled and easily able to cope with Falik’s sliding phrases.

Autumn returns us to a reflective mood with the melancholy thoughts of Aleksandr Pushkin. Tenor, Aleksandrs Antoņenko, sings over a wordless choir providing a very Russian sounding voice before the choir bring a beautifully hushed end.

Latvian composer, Arturs Maskats (b. 1957), was born in Valmiera and studied composition with Valentins Utkins (1904-1995) at the Latvian State Conservatory. He has worked closely with theatre, having written music for over one hundred productions. He has been Chairman of the Latvian Composer’s Union as well as Music Director of the Rainis Dailes Theatre and Latvian National Opera.

A soprano voice opens Let My Prayer Be Granted high and ethereally, soon joined by the rest of the choir in this entrancing work. This setting of psalm texts is shared between the soloist and the choir with some lovely weaving of vocal sounds with moments of pure magic. There is a dramatic section with timpani joining with a bass voice bringing increasing passion. The music drops but rises again with the choir providing a terrific sound. The soprano voice enters alone before the choir intone with some beautiful vocal sounds before the gentle coda.

Spring, a setting of verses by Boris Pasternak (1890-1960), brings a wordless opening from choir with gentle bell chimes.  Tenor, Aleksandrs Antoņenko enters in this slow contemplation of spring that gently rises as the choir takes over the text soon joined by Antoņenko. A climax is reached with tenor providing much emotion,            even terror, before dropping back as a soprano rises up over the choir.  Antoņenko joins again though now more restrained but soon a tremendous climax for tenor and choir is reached. At the words ‘…And the singing lasts until dawn…’ all quietens to a hush, bells re-appear quietly and the sound of a vibraphone. There is a final outburst from the tenor before the choir leads to a lovely, quiet coda.

The Russian composer, Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998) was born in the town of Fatezh in the Kursk Governorate of the Russian Empire (present-day Kursk Oblast). He initially studied at a local music school but later moved to the Leningrad Central Music College where he studied piano.  He went on to study at the Leningrad Conservatory under Peter Borisovich Ryazanov (1899-1942) and Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975).

Sviridov’s compositions include choral works, orchestral works, concertos, chamber works and piano works as well as film music.

Winter Morning is another Pushkin setting that has an upbeat opening before settling to a steadier, flowing, and thoughtful nature. There is some lovely part writing with a section of the choir providing a wordless support of the sung text.

Tenor, Aleksandrs Antoņenko opens About Lost Youth over a wordless choir in Nikolay Gogol’s lament for lost youth, beautifully done by this choir where they bring some superb sounds, so sensitive and expertly controlled. There are lovely little details in this setting with Antoņenko providing some very fine singing.

The lively Christmas Carol is a setting of a folk song text with a cantering rhythmic pulse and some terrifically robust singing before the exquisite, hushed coda.

Sacred Love, which provides the title of this disc, sets the single four line verse of Aleksey Tolstoy’s poem. Soprano, Ieva Ezeriete sings the text over a wordless choir in this really lovely setting.

There is more Pushkin with Natasha, a setting that pushes the text gently forward with Sviridov somehow managing to achieve a gentle, quiet feel yet with a forward propulsion. 

With Icon we have another setting of texts by Blok.  Hushed sections of the choir individually join before Aleksandrs Antoņenko enters to sing over the wordless voices. Slowly the music rises with Antoņenko providing such a lovely emotional thrust and passion on the words ‘Until you do not become this poor, And do not lie, trodden on…’

With so many fine gems on this disc, beautifully sung this deserves to be a very popular release. It is beautifully recorded at St. John’s Church, (Svētā Jāņa Evaņģēliski luteriskā baznīca) Riga, Latvia. There are informative booklet notes as well as full texts and English translations.

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