Here’s a century’s worth of Latvian orchestral music, from Ābele to Skulte, and 1906 to 2007. Listen blind and you’ll have a hard job placing some of these nine pieces chronologically. Conductor Guntis Kuzma explains in his foreword that “our music contains fewer modernist elements…” and the 1987 Overture by Ādolfs Skulte could have been written four decades earlier. It’s appealing, colourful stuff, though, and reading that the composer “was able to repair any household appliance” makes you like him even more. The biographical sleeve notes are as entertaining as the music. Jānis Kepītis, whose Lyrical Ballad dates, improbably, from 1984, excelled at crosswords and beekeeping. Ādolfs Ābele “seemed to glide rather than walk,” leaving behind a trail of ash and cigarette smoke. His 1924 Meditation (In Solitude) is a gem, a ripe, bittersweet eruption of colour.
Jānis Ivanovs, several of whose 21 symphonies have been released on the Skani label, is a significant figure in 20th century music. Rainbows, from 1939, is a lushly orchestrated tone poem reflecting the composer’s chromesthesia. Agriscience Engelmanis, a one-time pilot who could have been a Soviet cosmonaut, contributes an evocative, occasionally pungent Illustration in Sepia. There’s so much to love here, Kuzma drawing refined playing from an audibly enthused Liepāja Symphony Orchestra. Skani’s sound is warm and rich, and the aforementioned booklet notes include links to further information contained on the Latvian Music Information Centre’s website. Nice sleeve art too.