Sinfonietta Riga is a relatively young ensemble, founded in Latvia in 2006. On this disc from the Latvian label Skani, Sinfonietta Riga and conductor Normunds Šnē perform four works written for the ensemble by Latvian composers, Ruta Paidere’s Tempera, Andris Dzenītis' Euphoria, Platons Buravickis' The Temperature of Plastics with saxophonist Aigars Raumanis and Linda Leimane’s Ray-Bows.
For much of the 20th and 21st centuries, music in the Baltic countries has remained intimately intertwined with the complexities of history. The composers represented on this disc are amongst the generations that grew up able to work freely, without persecution by totalitarian regimes or clashes with even older political ideologies. In fact, two of the composers on the disc were born around the time that Latvia regained its independence. Not that musical life was all sweetness and light. Political ideology in the newly independent Latvia saw the profession of composer as almost completely superfluous and unnecessary, official rhetoric, said the country already had one composer – as well as one famous pianist, one award-winning violinist, and so on – so it did not need any more. For this reason, many of the composers from these early generations found themselves needing to live and work elsewhere.
All four pieces on the disc are a world away from the minimalism and spirituality embraced by Latvian composers such as Rihards Dubra. All four works here celebrate a sort of maximalism and a joy in complexity of texture and rhythm, along with technical challenge.
The disc begins with a work by Andris Dzenītis (born 1978). His Euphoria, is an overture for chamber orchestra written in 2017 in honour of the teacher and composer Pēteris Plakidis (1947-2017). It is a six minute work full of rhythm and energy, colour and movement with a sense of constant motion and multiple moving parts.
Platons Buravickis' concerto The Temperature of Plastics was written for saxophonist Aigars Raumanis and represents a challenge both to performer and listener. The solo part uses a number of extended techniques in the instrument, as well as being a challenge to stamina as well. There is an uncompromising element to Buravickis' music here, and an anger. The title of the concerto seems to refer to the ongoing challenge of environmental pollution, but Buravickis' response is anything but New Age. From the very beginning the orchestral writing is full of colour, movement and energy with multilayered writing ensuring that there is a great deal going on. The spiky writing for the soloist only goes to emphasize the sense of anger, and the work rises at the end to a profoundly intense climax. This piece, at over 20 minutes long, is a terrific tour de force.
Linda Leimane's Ray-Bows seems to have been written at the same time as Leimane was composer-in-residence with the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra. It begins with fast, mobile layers of music, lots of colours creating a sense of dramatic narrative with some truly vivid moments. Again, this is an orchestral tour de force.
Ruth Paidere's Tempera takes a very different approach, yet is in its way no less complex. Written for string orchestra, the work at first seems placidly sustained, but Paidere's use of constantly shifting microtones brings an eerie sense of textures in constant, uneasy flux.