Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Latvian Radio Choir under their director, Sigvards Kļava bring performances of works by Arvo Pärt of tremendous beauty, accuracy and understanding on a new release from Ondine

The Latvian Radio Choir is a full time professional choir that was founded in 1940.  The choir is a seven-time recipient of the Great Music award of the Latvian government and have collaborated with such well-known names as Stephen Layton, Tönu Kaljuste, Lars Ulrik Mortensen and Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Under their Chief Conductor, Sigvards Kļava  the choir has made a number of highly praised recordings for Ondine the latest of which features music by Arvo Pärt (b.1935) entitled Da Pacem Domine.

ODE 1286-2

Triodion (1998) was commissioned by Lancing College, Sussex, England to celebrate their 150th anniversary and must have sounded as wonderful in the large acoustic of their chapel as it does here. In five parts it opens with an ethereal, pure toned Introduction opening for high female voices before quickly moving into Ode I where male voices sing over droned background, bringing exquisite sonorities. There are some quite wonderful harmonies with the music rising in strength midway on the words ‘For which cause we cry aloud unto thee with thanksgiving.’ They fall back to a hush as ‘O Jesus the Son of God, have mercy upon us.’ is slowly chanted before we glide into a luminous Ode II.

There are lovely textures with the music increasing in power, beautifully phrased and paced within this acoustic, Sigvards Kļava allowing reverberation of the voices to die before falling to a chant of ‘O Most Holy Birth giver of God, save us.’ Ode III opens with the female voices rising up, immediately joined by male voices before falling to a slow, quiet undulating passage. The music rises and falls a number of times with the female voices finding a great purity before gently arriving at a rising and falling repeated motif to end peacefully. A solo soprano opens Coda before the choir joins to add a quiet, sonorous final ‘Amen.’

Sieben Magnificat-Antiphonen (1988/91) is set in German reflecting his residence in Germany at the time. It was composed for the RIAS Chamber Choir, Berlin and comprises seven antiphons to be sung on each of the seven evenings before Christmas Eve. Pärt finds the most lovely luminous textures in I O Weisheit (O Wisdom) with the choir delivering the most perfect realisation of this lovely piece, a simple recurring theme with subtly developed harmonies. The male voices lay down a wordless layer or drone in II O Adonai over which rich deep voices slowly take the text, again developing some lovely harmonies. With III O Sproß aus Isais Wurzel (O Scion of Isaiah’s Line) female voices rise across the choir in some of Pärt’s finest dissonances creating some quite lovely effects before rising dramatically into IV O Schlüssel Davids (O David’s Key), full of great strength, filling the acoustic, again beautifully phrased and paced. A wonderful section. The choir move gently and quietly into the lovely V O Morgenstern (O Morning Star) blending some lovely harmonies to arrive at a quiet, glowing coda. The choir finds a faster moving rhythmic VI O König aller Völker (King of All Nations) where voices are layered and built as the music slowly increases in dynamics to a sudden halt.  A soft, quiet and gentle VII O Immanuel slowly expands through some lovely textures, growing in strength, arriving at some dramatic statements before finding a quiet end.  

Nunc dimittis (2001) was written for and first performed by the Choir of St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh, Scotland as part of the Edinburgh Festival. A male voiced drone slowly expands throughout the choir through some exquisite bars with the words of the Nunc dimittis slowly appearing. This exquisite setting brings some lovely blending of textures out of which a soprano voice emerges, rising through some stunning passages before falling back to find a quieter conclusion.

Dopo la vittoria (After the victory) (1996/98) finds a lighter, more buoyant feel as it dances rhythmically forward before finding some extended slower, more sonorous passages. The choir shape this music beautifully as it moves through vibrant passages with the choir sounding out wonderfully. There are glorious, luminous passages where female voices sound above the choir before the opening vibrancy returns at the end. 

Virgencita (2012) was inspired by the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe and was premiered by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir in León, Mexico. Female voices open slowly and gently with the male voices taking over before the whole choir rises in this lovely setting. The piece progresses through some lovely harmonies and textures with this choir showing such sensitivity in the gentle phrases and sonorities before moving through some glowing powerful passages to a hushed end.

The Woman with the Alabaster Box (1997) and Tribute to Caesar (1997) were written as companion pieces for the 350th anniversary of the Karlstad Diocese in Sweden, both works taking a text from the Gospel of St. Matthew.

Female voices gently open The Woman with the Alabaster Box, soon joined by the rest of the choir, before finding a greater strength. There is a high point when the male voices sing over a wordless female drone before leading to a rich, hushed conclusion.   Male voices slowly and gently take Tribute to Caesar forward, the whole choir joining to find some haunting moments before rising in power only to fall back. Pärt’s use of the various sections of the choir is inspired.  

The disc’s title work, Da pacem Domine (2004/06) was commissioned by conductor Jordi Savall for a peace concert in Barcelona, Spain. The choir brings some lovely harmonies and phrasing, revealing some quite wonderful, distinctive ideas from Pärt as the music proceeds in little pulses of vocal power, building in strength before the lovely coda.

The Latvian Radio Choir under their director, Sigvards Klava is absolutely first class, bringing performance of tremendous beauty, accuracy and understanding. The recording made in St. John’s Church (Sv. Jāņa baznīca), Riga, Latvia, is superb. There are informative booklet notes together with full texts and English translations.

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