LMIC radio

Lūcija Garūta. Apple Tree



Release date




LMIC 153

Lūcija Garūta (1902–1977) was one of the first Latvian professional female composers. She wrote dozens of a cappella choral works, but only now, with this album, are several of those songs experiencing their premieres. 

Like most composers born in Latvia in the early 20th century and who lived through the Soviet occupation, Garūta’s work can be divided into periods before and after the Second World War. In the memoirs of her contemporaries from the 1930s, we read about venues full to overflowing on evenings featuring Garūta’s solo songs, when the young composer herself, who had studied in Paris (1926–1928) alongside studies at the Latvian Conservatoire, sat at the piano and accompanied the brightest soloists of the day, including soprano Milda Brehmane-Štengele, mezzo-soprano Herta Lūse, tenor Mariss Vētra and baritone Ādolfs Kaktiņš. Garūta was admired for her unusual interplay of thoughts that reflected on current trends in the world of music at the time, bravely defending even the ideas of Les Six, but at the same time remained faithful to elements of Latvian music, especially praising the Latvian folk song.  

Kristiāna Vaickovska


Lūcija Garūta worked during the central third of the 20th century, and after World War II in a land forcibly colonised by the Soviets. Her musical style had to undergo an equally forced change to accommodate the dictates of Socialist Realism in music. From what I can discover, things in Latvia were not as dreadful as in Russia, where composers such as Prokofiev and Shostakovitch had to bend the knee to political correctness of a chilling and killing kind. Lūcija Garūta did bend the knee, however. In embracing Latvian folk music, her post-war music became simpler and more diatonic.

I have made the mistake of listening to the programme all at once. There are tweny-one tracks, the longest by far at just under 7 minutes, the shortest at 1¾ minutes. Their relative similarity prevents the appreciation of their individual qualities. It would have been far better to choose individual songs and concentrate on them.

The works are not far off mid-19th-century melodic style; many could be Elgar’s choral songs. There is an occasional slight harmonic side-step and maybe some contrapuntal parts, but nothing that would raise an eyebrow. The Soviet Cultural Commissar in Latvia would have approved. All songs attractive if not striking. To my ears, the best is Dziesminas gaitas on track 11, in which Därta Paldiņa’s lovely contralto soars above the choir.

The choir, as usual these days, is absolutely outstanding. Technically accomplished and beauteous of tone, they are a pleasure to hear. The disc is a high-quality production, with copious biographical notes and full song texts in Latvian and English. The recording is natural and spacious; I cannot imagine it being improved upon.

Jim Westhead,
musicwebinternational.com, 01/2024


Those who enjoy exploring the uncharted byways of choral music will definitely relish this new disc of a cappella works by Lūcija Garūta (1902 77), a pioneering Latvian female composer, new to me. If any further recommendation were needed, the performers are the stunning Latvian Radio Choir, directed by Sigvards Klava.

Garūta was one of the first professional female composers in Latvia. Following an extended period at the Riga Conservatory (when she also served as repetiteur for the National Opera), in 1926 she visited Paris, where she studied briefly with Alfred Cortot and Isidor Philipp. In 1928 she returned for lessons with Paul Dukas. Inspired by the fresh approaches of Les Six, she quickly established herself as an active pianist, chamber musician and a prolific composer, particularly of songs. There are also a Piano Concerto and an unfinished opera, The Bird in Silver. Somehow, she survived the terrors of both of the Soviet occupations and the Nazi invasion. Her courageous landmark 1943 cantata Dievs, Tava zeme deg! (‘God, your land is burning!’) is regarded as being one of the most significant native Latvian pieces.

In the severe grip of the Soviet regime, Garūta switched to choral compositions, 21 examples of which are included here. The hallmarks of her thoroughly tonal idiom are a strong melodic gift coupled to a melancholic lyrical depth, contrasting with ecstatic outbursts, for example at the conclusion of the rolling Day of Song. Bass lines are solid, textures are refreshingly varied, modulations cunningly thrown, as attractive to the listener as for those singing. Sometimes a strophic approach provides sufficient structural framework; at other times Garūta adopts a through-composed method.

Modalism is never far from the surface, heavily influenced by the prevalent folk-song tradition. The quiet intensity of May We, Latvians, Forever Be Free is all the more effective given its emotional restraint. Nature inspires the disc’s title-track, Apple Tree, which dates from 1956, and the equally beautiful In the Spring Rain (1960) and Autumn Song of the Migrating Birds. Particular highlights include the penultimate track, A White Sheep Swims in the Sea, gloriously rich and quasi-orchestral, and the harmonically adventurous The Voice of Peace.

This is a groundbreaking album, sung with perfervid expertise, and a testament to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of crushing adversity.

Malcolm Riley
Gramophone Magazine, 11/2023



Lucija Garuta was an influential composer in Latvia. She held a professorship at the Academy of Music in Riga until her death in 1977. Vocal music – songs and choral works – characterize her compositional work. The present album is the result of a first published ‘Apple Tree’ – the title reveals the thematic thread: Nature is at the center of the compositions often as a parable about man and his emotions. Again and again, folk-song-like sounds are mixed into the music, songs that have contributed significantly to the self-assurance of Latvia and its people.

This complexity of Garuta’s choral music is excellently translated into sounding emotions by the Latvian Radio Choir under Sigvards Klava. At times we witness a magnificent, promising sunrise, the path to a hopeful future (Come, Young Generation), at other times the choir strikes hymnal, reflective and confident notes (May We, Latvians, Forever Be Free, A Wish for a Child), then it becomes wonderfully pastoral (The Little Song’s Path).

These are just a few examples that emphatically underline the creative power, the versatility of the Latvian Radio Choir, without ever upsetting the finely balanced choral sound.

Guy Engels
PIZZICATO, 11/2023

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