Kenins: Symphonies Nos. 2, 3 & 7 / Poga, Latvian National Symphony Orchestra

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Final volume in the first-ever complete recorded cycle of symphonies by Talivaldis Keninš (1919–2008), one of the most prominent post-WW2 composers in Latvia and Canada....

Final volume in the first-ever complete recorded cycle of symphonies by Talivaldis Keninš (1919–2008), one of the most prominent post-WW2 composers in Latvia and Canada. This album includes three of the composer’s eight numbered symphonies performed by the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra under Andris Poga.

Although born in Latvia, Keninš lived most of his life as an exile. He was educated in Paris, where he studied under Tony Aubin and Olivier Messiaen, and won several awards. Keninš emigrated to Canada in 1951 and became a respected pedagogue and a very influential figure in Canada’s music life. Alongside his eight symphonies, the composer also wrote 12 concertos. However, he also included many concertante elements in his symphonies and the Symphony No. 2, “Sinfonia concertante” (1967), scored for three wind instruments and symphony orchestra, is very close to a triple concerto. The symphony’s extensive second movement is based on a lullaby of the Mi’kmaq First Nations people. Symphony No. 3 (1970) was completed few years after its predecessor and is a step forward in the composer’s journey as a symphonist. Here we encounter the idea of a lyrical hero, which, in the ears of the listener, could be personified. Although many consider Kenins’ 8th Symphony to be his symphonic climax, the 7th Symphony (1980) is by no means a lesser work: it could be even considered as one of the composer’s most personal and intimate creations. The symphony ends with an aria based on a text by the composer’s father and the atmosphere of the work seems to stem from the composer’s emotional trauma on the occupation of his native Latvia by the Soviet troops.


Ķeniņš composed his first symphony when he was forty and almost a decade elapsed before he turned to the genre again. However, his Symphony No 2 “Sinfonia concertante” does not strictly adhere to any symphonic mould. That the composer had a trio of wind instruments as some sort of a concertino tends to show that he was not completely sure of how to tackle that form again. This also shows is the lay-out of the piece, i.e three movements of strongly contrasting character as well as weight. In fact, the whole weight of the symphony lies in the long central movement whereas the brief opening Lento and the equally brief final Molto animato e marcato merely function as a prelude and epilogue of some sort. Moreover, the central Molto moderato: Tema e variazioni is twice as long as the two other movements put together. The weighty central movement is cast as a theme and variations on a lullaby of the Mi’kmaq First Nations people which the composer also used in his Suite in D major for organ. Anyone interested in what the Mi’kmaq First Nations people may be referred to Wikipedia for it all seems a rather long story. The variation movement of the Second Symphony is an impressive piece of music in which Kenins’ contrapuntal mastery is already fully displayed.

The Symphony No 3 is Ķeniņš’ first large-scale work for large symphony orchestra and again the composer demonstrates his assurance in his handling of form and counterpoint. The central movement Lento inquieto, though shorter than that of the Second Symphony, is again the emotional heart of the piece but it is nevertheless counterbalanced by two outer movements of fairly equal length but of quite different character. Georgs Pelēcis is quoted in Orets Silabriedis’ excellent notes as saying that “Kenins rejects seemingly essential symphony ingredients, such as the sonata form. That does not appear in any of the three movements … only one main theme is developed in each movement, and they are all interrelated. The unifying element is the rich chromatic intonations …”. The Third Symphony is clearly a work by a composer in full command of his aims and means, which shows in the way that the composer handles polyphony – an essential component of his music making. The first and second movements end with uncertainty, preparing for what is to follow, but the final movement Molto animato e brioso ends with an assertive gesture. As Silabriedis puts it: “I am responsible for everything that I have said and done”. (Incidentally, one might be reminded of RVW, whose Fourth Symphony also ends abruptly with a fist banging on a table and a door brutally slammed.

The Symphony No 7 “Symphony in the form of a Passacaglia” is scored for large orchestra and a mezzo-soprano in the final aria. Half the duration of the piece is purely orchestral and cast as a fully developed Passacaglia capped, so to say, by a short Allegro molto before the final aria for mezzo-soprano on a poem by the composer’s father, Atis Ķeniņš (1874–1961), who was also a statesman and one of the founders of the Republic of Latvia in 1919. The poem must have had a particularly personal resonance for the composer. “The mezzo-soprano solo links the composer more tightly with his family roots, expresses itself in more trusting and optimistic feelings; however, the unease in the harmonies and rhythm likely cannot hide the composer’s fears about out era. The concluding epilogue is like an Agnus Dei. The finale should express hope and faith, which stands over life’s troubles, soothing our darkest predictions, and suppressing our fears” (the composer’s words quoted in Silabriedis’ notes). The text, as translated in the booklet, may seem somewhat dated but has now acquired some new relevance in our troubled times and the symphony now carries a most welcome and needed appeal for peace. Nonetheless, Ķeniņš’ Seventh Symphony is quite an impressive piece of music in its own right and its “message” (if such there is) may be heard by any man of goodwill.

This final installment in Ondine’s Ķeniņš cycle has been carefully prepared and is as immaculately performed as the preceding ones. These are committed performances throughout, in excellent sound, up to Ondine’s best standards and Orests Silabriedis’ notes are excellent.

Ķeniņš’ symphonic cycle is on a par with other largely forgotten similar cycles that would probably have remained ignored or little known, were it not for brave and enterprising recording companies who have invested in similar projects. Examples that immediately come to mind are BIS’ recordings of Tubin’s symphonies and the hopefully ongoing Wordsworth cycle by Toccata. One cannot but hope that ventures such as these will encourage others to follow suit.

Ķeniņš’ music is too good to be ignored and these performances do it full justice; I am sure that they will play a part in securing his music its deserved status.

-- MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Release Date: September 02, 2022

  • UPC: 761195140123

  • Catalog Number: ODE 1401-2

  • Label: Ondine

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: 20th Century

  • Composer: Talivaldis Kenins

  • Conductor: Andris Poga

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Latvian National Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Tommaso Pratola, Egils Upatnieks, Martins Circenis, Zanda Svede


  1. Symphony No. 2, "Sinfonia concertante"

    Composer: Tālivaldis Ķeniņš

    Ensemble: Latvian National Symphony Orchestra

    Conductor: Andris Poga

  2. Symphony No. 3

    Composer: Tālivaldis Ķeniņš

    Ensemble: Latvian National Symphony Orchestra

    Conductor: Andris Poga

  3. Symphony No. 7

    Composer: Tālivaldis Ķeniņš

    Ensemble: Latvian National Symphony Orchestra

    Conductor: Andris Poga