GMCD 7283 – VEL – Lithuanian Chamber Music 1991-2001
Carsten Hustedt – Flute, Ingrida Armonaite – Violin, Audrone Pšibilskiene – Viola
International Record Review, July/August 2005
Further south to LithuaniaThe upsurge in interest in Lithuanian music is encouraging. For years the only Lithuanian composer anyone had heard of was Ciurlionis; now a whole string of names are becoming familiar, even if we are discovering the music only bit by bit. A new CD of contemporary Lithuanian chamber music from Guild will help. Five of the best-known names of contemporary Lithuanian music are here, all with works for flute, violin and viola (and, in one instance, piano). The Eight Miniatures of Stasys (2000) of Bronius Kutavicius (b.1932), one of the Grand Old Men of Lithuanian music, is inspired by paintings of Stasys Eidrigevicius (not that the title, given only in Lithuanian here, is ever translated for the benefit of those readers who don’t speak the language). They manage to encompass a wide range not only of moods (that’s not so difficult) but also of styles – a hard-core modernism, rigorous tonal counterpoint, motoric minimalism, pared-down simplicity – without losing a basic coherence. The Winter Serenade (1997) of Onute Narbutaite (b.1956) takes fragments of `Gute Nacht’ from Winterreise and constructs a touchingly hesitant little lament from them. She does essentially the same thing with the insubstantial Mozart Summer (1991), based on snippets of Mozart, none of them given enough space to garner flesh: it’s a bit like listening to a pointillist kaleidoscope. FIaVio (2001) by Remigijus Merkelys (b.1964) uses the harmonic System devised by Osvaldas Balakauskas (b.1937), which hovers between tonality and atonality, the results of which can be rather hit-and-miss – it can produce a subtle emotional ambiguity but can also sound rather dry. FlaVio hovers between arid repetition and generating a bright minimalist toccata figuration. All these composers have written more personal works than these; it’s with Balakauskas’s Rex Re (2000) – centred an D (Re) – that the disc suddenly perks up: it’s a jazzily animated, l2-mimte moto perpetuo, bouncing with rhythmic enthusiasm. Der Fall Wagner (1999), for flute, violin and viola by Mindaugas Urbaitis (b.1952), makes easygoing hay with the opening of Tristan und Isolde and other Wagnerian snippets; nothing happens for 13 minutes and then it stops. The buoyant quartet performing these works is a LithuanianGerman alliance: Carlsten Hustedt an flute, Ingrida Armonaite an violin, Audrone Psbilskiene an viola and Ute Stoecklin at the piano.
MusicWeb Friday September 03.04
Sorry if I spoil the game straightaway, but I must say that this is one of the loveliest and most interesting discs from Guild that I have reviewed so far. The repertoire heard here is quite unusual, i.e. when compared what we usually get from this label; and I sincerely hope that this will be the first of many similar discs from Guild.
This well-filled disc provides for a fair survey of the recent output of some present-day Lithuanian composers belonging to different generations. Both Kutavičius (born 1932) and Balakauskas (born 1937) represent the first generation of Lithuanian modern composers to have achieved some prominence during the Soviet era, although – as might be expected – their often groundbreaking music found little support, if at all, from the Regime at that time.
Kutavičius’ output includes several substantial and often quite personal choral works (Pantheistic Oratorio – 1970, which was banned by the Regime, The Last Pagan Rites – 1978, one of his most accessible major scores, From the Jatvingian Stone – 1983 and The Tree of the World – 1986, both of them containing some of his most original and adventurous music) as well as the often intriguing tetralogy The Gates of Jerusalem (1991-1995) and the superb opera Lokys (“The Bear” – 1999/2000) after Mérimée that may be considered as the synthesis of this composer’s music making over the years. Chamber music is not absent either, and Aštuonios Stasio miniatiūros for flute, violin and viola, one of his recent works and one composed for this CD, is a beautiful suite of short character pieces inspired by paintings by Stasys Eidrigevičius, who is also a poet, whose verse Kutavičius has set in Erotikos (1997 – soprano, recorder and horn). The titles of the eight short movements speak for themselves, and are evoked in vivid, subtle musical terms. This is, no doubt, Kutavičius’ music at its most poetic; and, as far as I am concerned, one of the real gems in this selection. Osvaldas Balakauskas may be somewhat better known thanks to recordings from ASV and BIS. He too has a substantial output to his credit, in which concertos feature generously. Rex Re (simply because the piece is based on D [Ré]) for flute, violin, viola and piano is another very attractive piece fully displaying the composer’s imaginative and resourceful handling of some basically limited material. A real compositional tour de force as well as a hugely enjoyable piece (the other gem here, indeed). This, too, was composed for this disc.
The younger generations are represented by Onuté Narbutaité (born 1956), Mindaugas Urabaitis (born 1952) and Remigijus Merkelys (born 1964), all three being former pupils of Julius Juzeliūnas, himself a most distinguished composer. I must add the Merkelys’ name and music were completely new to me. On the other hand, Narbutaité’sd music features in two Finlandia discs (which, sadly enough, I still have to hear), whereas some of Urbaitis’ pieces are available in discs published by the Lithuanian Music Information Centre in Vilnius. So let us begin Merkelys’ trio FlaVio (i.e. Flaute, Violin and Viola), which was also commissioned for this CD. The piece may at times sound somewhat minimaslistic, in that it is mostly based on repetition of some basic motives, but the repetition is varied enough as to avoid blunt Minimalism and to sustain interest throughout its 10-minute duration. Narbutaité’s works heard here are both related to composers from the past : Mozart in Mozartsommer (1991) written on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Mozart’s death and Schubert in Winterserenade (1997) based on motives from Schubert’s song Gute Nacht (from Winterreise). I find that Winterserenade is on the whole more successful, probably because there is less emphasis on the Schubert material, whereas Mozartsommer is, to my mind, a bit too consciously Mozart-like. However, both pieces are fine examples of Narbutaité’s music often characterised by clarity, transparency, economy of means and considerable poetic insight. Urbaitis, too, seems to have some particular liking for letting objets trouvés (i.e. quotes, near-quotes or allusions) into his own music, e.g. Mahler in Schlußstück (1998 – mezzo-soprano, string quartet, trombone and double bass) or Wagner in Der Fall Wagner recorded here, which, fine as it really is, may be a trifle too long for its own good, but again quite attractive in its own right.
Well, I know, I did it all the wrong way, beginning this review with my conclusion. So, you already know what I think about this very fine release that will hopefully be the first of many such releases. I recommend it wholeheartedly for the quality and variety of the works, the excellent performances and the global quality of the production. Really well worth investigating.