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 Kl,ava.
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.
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.