Latvian Radio Choir founded in 1940, is regarded as one of the top professional chamber choirs in Europe.
The choir gives at least sixty concerts annually in Latvia and abroad, and regularly appears in theatrical and multimedia events.
Every year, the choir commissions about ten new works from Latvian composers.
The Latvian Radio Choir could be described as a sound laboratory – the singers explore their skills by turning to the mysteries of traditional singing, as well as to the art of quartertone and overtone singing and other sound production techniques.
A new entry to the mix of choir CDs is Diena aust, a collection of Latvian choir classics (choir songs written in the early 20th century) recorded by the Latvian Radio Choir and conducted by Sigvards Kl,ava.
Focusing on what many consider to be the golden era for Latvian choir music, the CD contains a selection of works by the composers of that era.
Interestingly, the Latvian Radio Choir is perhaps best known for their focus on modern choir works.
But they are just as comfortable with the classics. In fact, “Diena aust” could be considered a follow up to their 2008 recording Skaisti dziedi, with performances of classic folk song arrangements.
No classic choir music collection would be complete without works by the best known composer of the era – Jāzeps Vītols.
Though Viītols may be better known for such thundering choir epics like “Gaismas pils” and ‘Karaļ,meita’, many of his works have a rather remarkable tenderness.
From the lyrical opening to the exulting crescendo at the conclusion, the choir delivers a sweeping performance of Viītols “Diena aust” (lyrics by Jānis Esenbergs).
Oddly, the choir drops the first verse of “Saule austrumos” (lyrics by Teodors Zeiferts), a bit surprising and unclear if that was intentional or not.
Though his compositional output can be considered minimal – the seventeen choir compositions by Emīls Dārziņš remain not only a cornerstone of any Latvian choir’s repertoire, but also beloved by listeners.
With his melodic sense and lyricism in songs like “Sapņu tālumā” (words by Aspāzija), but also the dramatic tension of a song like ‘Ciānas bērni’ (also by Aspāzija), his choir works cover a range of emotions.
The Radio Choir bring out these nuances, with the defiant introduction of “Ciānas bērni”, as well as the tenderness of the third verse of ‘Minjona’ (words by Goethe) – the quiet words ‘Vai zini kalnu, kuru mākons sedz?’ .
The choir reminds us of the beauty of these songs and why they still resonate more than a century later.
Another popular romantic and lyrical composer of that era was Pēteris Barisons. The choir brings the right touch of playfulness and celebration to the dance-like middle section of ‘Pavasara jausma’ (lyrics by Atis Ķēniņš.
The dreaming and longing of ‘Zilie sapņu kalni’ (lyrics by Kārlis Ieviņš leads the listener on a memorable journey, with the women’s voices singing the sentimental words …Over the dark valleys of life, the ones who loved us wave.
A particular treat is to hear the Radio Choir perform Jānis Zālītis ‘Kad nakts’, a less frequently performed work, with some of famed Latvian poet Rainis’ most romantic words.
The understated performance of the song, with its quiet climax of the men’s voices singing ‘lai nezin to neviens’ (let no one know this), makes for particularly stirring listening.
Beyond the mentioned composers, the CD also contains memorable performances of works by Emilis Melngailis, Alfrēds Kalniņš(, Jāzeps Medinš and Jānis Kalniņš. The CD booklet also has extensive notes on each composer in both Latvian and English.
This collection is particularly enjoyable as it does not focus on the ‘obvious’ repertoire – the CD does not have the best known songs like Vītols ‘Gaismas pils’ or Dārziņš ‘Mēness starus stīgo’ (though, rather enjoyably, it does have Melngailis’ version, which is not as well known or frequently performed as Darziņš.
Though arguably less ‘popular’, it is quite refreshing to hear recordings of songs that might not be performed very often – as these reveal aspects and facets of the composers that the listener might not have been aware of.
The Latvian Radio Choir has once again proven itself as one of the most versatile ensembles in Latvia – showing expertise not just in modern music, but bringing new life to these classic works, many of which are over a century old.
With conductor Sigvards Kļava at the helm, the choir once again shows their expertise and talents on Diena Aust – a celebration of the classics of Latvian choir music from the most distinguished of Latvian composers, performed by one of the most distinguished Latvian choirs.
Latvian Radio Choir website: http://www.radiokoris.lv