This has to be one of the most tightly-focused album themes I’ve seen in some time. “Canadian Amber” presents three works by Latvian composers who emigrated to Canadian after World War II; Janis Kalnins, Talivaldis Kenins and Imant Raminsh. And this is but a representative sampling of this Latvian/Canadian arts scene.

The three composers on this release all became Canadian citizens and prominent Canadian composers. And yet they’re still claimed by Latvia, giving their music sort of a dual-citizenship. Although the three composers do share a similar musical background, each has their own distinct voice.

Janis Kalnins wrote in a post-Romantic style that sometimes incorporated modernist language. His 1945 Violin Concerto in F-sharp minor is gorgeous. Kalnins gives the soloist some finely crafted melodies to dig into.

Imant Raminsh is best known for his choral works. His Aria for Violin and Piano has a singing quality to it. The melody has long, expressive phrases that would also work well for the human voice. Raminsh’s harmonies are tonal but have more modal elements than Kalnis.

Talivaldis Kenins completed his Concerto for Piano, Percussion, and String Orchestra when he was 71. Kenins has a more modern style than his two compatriots. I heard influences from Stravinsky, Bartok, and Janacek in this work. Kenins’s concerto is highly chromatic, with strong rhythmic motifs and blocks of sound.

These recordings come from varying sources, and that’s a problem. The Kalnis concerto is from a CBC broadcast, and the sound is really compressed. The solo violin had a pinched sound, and bass tones (especially the tympani) were excessively boomy.

The other two works sounded fine. Comparing the sound of violinist Laura Zarina in the Kalnis and Raminsh tracks, I determined the issue was in the recordings, not her performances. The sound of her violin in Raminsh’s Aria has a fuller, more natural sound.

I hope the Toronto Latvian Concert Association produce more of these recordings. All three works are of exceptional quality, and deserve greater recognition outside the borders of Canada and Latvia.

Canadian Amber: Music by Latvian-Canadian Composers
Janis Kalnins; Talivaldis Kenins; Imant Raminsh
Laura Zarina, violin; Artus Ozolins, piano
Canadian Opera Company Orchestra; Maris Simais, conductor
Centrediscs CMCCD 206519