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Born in 1906. Dārziņš. Ivanovs

Performers

Latvian National Symphony Orchestra
Reinis Zariņš - piano
Andris Poga - conductor

Series

Centennial

Recorded

2015

Release date

06.01.2017

Compositions

Volfgangs Dārziņš

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2

Jānis Ivanovs

Symphony No. 20

Description

LMIC 048

Dārziņš and Ivanovs: similarities and differences.

Volfgangs Dārziņš was born in Riga on September 25, 1906. His father was Emīls Dārziņš, one of the best-loved Latvian composers and one of the most significant music critics of his day. Volfgangs was named in honour of Mozart, whose music the young-at-heart Emīls loved and the mature-minded Emīls considered the source of musical clarity.

Jānis Ivanovs was born in Babri, a village in Latgale, on October 9, 1906. His father was Andrejs Ivanovs, a telegraph lineman who had learned electrical work while serving in the Tsar’s army. Jānis was half Latvian and half Russian.

Volfgangs Dārziņš grew up in Riga. When he was four years old, his father died in a railway accident. Jānis Ivanovs grew up in his native village and also in Skrīveri, where his father worked. Both places had very beautiful landscapes, and in Latgale the boy was also exposed to a living tradition of folk music.

During the First World War, Dārziņš and his mother, who was a teacher at the Riga Maldonis Gymnasium, lived in Nizhnynovgorod and Saratov. Ivanovs and his parents, for their part, spent the war years in Smolensk and Vitebsk. The Dārziņš family returned to Latvia in 1919; the Ivanovs family returned in 1920.

After the war, in 1924, Dārziņš and Ivanovs both enrolled in the newly established Latvian Conservatory. Ivanovs began studying in a special piano class led by Nikolajs Dauge but then decided to concentrate instead on composition and orchestral conducting. Dārziņš began studies in composition and additionally studied piano performance.

Both young men graduated from the composition class of Jāzeps Vītols, the founder of Latvian professional music education and a former professor at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Other composition classes did not yet exist in Latvia, and both budding composers gained a classical, conservative, professionally flawless education based on the German-Russian tradition; it did not, however, always encourage explorations of new horizons. But some young composers, including Dārziņš and Ivanovs, did break out of comfortable and well-understood frame of National Romanticism.

The effervescent, conspicuous and energetic Dārziņš became known for his organic renderings of Latvian traditional music in the realm of professional music, and by the age of 40 he had become something of a Latvian Bartók, demonstrating a deft style with intricate metro-rhythmic phrasing.

The reserved, introverted and guarded Ivanovs journeyed through the captivating domains of Impressionism, and before reaching the age of 40 had already become a recognised composer of monumental symphonic music with a style resembling the thick brushstrokes of a painter specialising in oils.

Dārziņš’ Piano Concerto No. 2, featured on this album, marks the end of the composer’s youth, while Ivanovs’ Symphony No. 20 is considered the culmination of the composer’s oeuvre.

At the time when Dārziņš was composing his Piano Concerto No. 2, Ivanovs was writing his Symphony No. 4 (Atlantis), which was heavily influenced by the global situation at the onset of the Second World War. Dārziņš, who was also a talented and prolific music critic, felt Ivanovs’ work contained too much death. His own Concerto was as light and lively as little else in Latvian music.

Review

Born in 1906 is the intriguing title of this release from the Latvian-based Skani label. It was a year of immense significance for Latvian music, witnessing the birth of two of its finest and best - Volfgangs Dārziņš and Jānis Ivanovs. For those encountering these two composers for the first time, I must single out the accompanying liner notes as being extremely informative in the way of biography and context. They point out the many parallels between them. Although both were born in Latvia, they and their families spent the years of the First World War in Russia, both returning to their native country after the cessation of hostilities. Both young men enrolled at the newly established Latvian Conservatory in 1924, studying under the renowned Jāzeps Vītols. Here they gained a conservatively classical grounding in the German-Russian tradition. This did not hold either of them back, and both went on to push the boundaries of the restrictive confines of National Romanticism.
That’s where the similarities end. They were men of totally different temperaments. Dārziņš, son of the composer Emīls Dārziņš (1875-1910), was a dashing type with a passionate love of sports. Ivanovs was reserved and introverted, a man who regarded people with some suspicion. Dārziņš combined the roles of composer, concert pianist, teacher, music critic and, like Bartók, ethnomusicologist. In this latter role he carried out extensive research into his country’s folk music, mapping the distribution of many folksongs. These traditional Latvian elements can be found in his music. Ivanovs remained a staunch symphonist throughout his career, completing twenty in all. Dārziņs emigrated to Germany in 1944, and from there, in 1950, went to live in the United States, where he remained for the rest of his life. He died in Seattle in 1962. Ivanovs was the proverbial home-bird, staying put in Latvia until his death in 1983. Dārziņs’ Piano Concerto No. 2 is an early work, Ivanovs’ Symphony No. 20 came at the end of a long life.
Dārziņš’ early attempts at a piano concerto date from 1934, with a student work performed by him as part of his final exam at the Conservatory. The Piano Concerto No. 2, we have here, was written in 1938 and was premiered by him a year later. I have to say that I rather like it, and it’s a pity it has lain dormant for years. There was a failed attempt to rehabilitate it in the 1970s, but it had to wait until 1986 for its next performance, when pianist Māris Zembergs and the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra did the honours in Riga. The opening movement reveals some exquisite woodwind scoring, warmly impressionistic. The piano enters a few bars in, eloquent, elegant and poised. However, Dārziņš’ aim isn't just to seduce and bewitch the listener with a surfeit of beguiling lyricism, there are moments of intense drama too. The second movement is a theme and variations. For me the ghost of Scriabin hovers over this movement more than the others. There are moments where the music is intensely impassioned and chromatically tortuous. The finale is both animated and forward driven, with the general mood upbeat and convivial.
Ivanovs’ Symphony No. 20 was his last completed work in the genre (Symphony No. 21 remained unfinished at his death and was completed and orchestrated by Juris Karlsons). The 20th was premiered in 1981. It’s cast in four movements, a traditional form the composer thoroughly approved of; all bar four of his symphonies were structured in this way. The work is tragic and deeply personal. He had confided to his wife that this was his requiem. One senses darkness, pain and suffering in the opening movement. Powerful and dramatic, the inner conflicts are almost too difficult to bear. Midway a funeral bell tolls. The Adagio is no less tragic. It's an elegy, where the composer contemplates death. A brief Menuetto follows, with the composer wistfully recalling the days of his youth (Reminiscenca). The imposing finale is impulsive and energy-driven, yet there are some reflective and melancholic quiet sections, which provide some welcome contrast. The tolling bell returns in the closing bars of the subdued ending.
Both works are ideally served by the deeply committed readings and polished ensemble of the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, under the inspirational direction of Andris Poga. The pianist Reinis Zariņš not only relishes the Concerto’s generous lyricism, but injects plenty of personality into his playing. This is a rewarding release and earns my enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Stephen Greenbank