Reviews

GMCD 7283 – VEL – Lithuanian Chamber Music 1991-2001

Carsten Hustedt – Flute, Ingrida Armonaite – Violin, Audrone Pšibilskiene – Viola

To the CD in our Shop


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.                                                                  
Hubert Culot


MusicWeb Friday August  06 04

The classical recording industry has multiple links with the music of the Baltic states. Estonia and Antes/Bella Musica go hand in hand. Eres is strong on Latvia and now Guild have issued this disc of Lithuanian music. As it turns out I have been listening to a great deal of Lithuanian music over the last six months courtesy of the Lithuanian Music Information Centre.
‘Vêl’ – the title of this album – is the word for ‘again’ which in turn expresses the boundless spirit of excited renewal and opportunity brimming in the Baltic conclave.
If I have a criticism of the notes it is that they are fragmented but what there is provides a helpful backdrop. Ute Stoecklin who is also the pianist is a reflective writer. It is just a shame that there was not more space to fully trace the history of all five composers back into the pre-1991 era.
Kutavicius’s meditative minimalism is by no means spare or static. Here is a touch of Pärt’s Cantus (Sorrow and Bird Behind the Pane), pressurised angst (Scream and Yellow beads), repetitive chatter (Clown and Cardboard Man), Penderecki-like wails and ululations (Clown and Yellow Beads), rhythmically hunting and chaffing (The Triangle) and meditative, though slightly salty, Bachian repose (The eternal peace).
Kutavicius has made a grand impact on Lithuanian music through his four oratorios: Pantheistic Oratorio (1970), Last Customs of the Heathen (1978), From the Stone of the Jatwinger (1983) and The Tree of the World (1986). Now those I would like to hear very much.
Narbutaite’s two works are less overtly avant-garde than Kutavicius’s. The Winter Serenade is a mosaic of acidic delicacy where the allusive fragments relating to the Schubert song dance around and fall as if in a crystal snowstorm. Mozart Summer adopts a similar approach but the shards of Mozartian material rarely coalesce in the way that the fragments do in Winter Serenade. It is more angular: all elbows and knees – a fascinating experience though.
Narbutaite was a pupil of Julius Juzeliunas and has lived in Vilnius since 1982. She is also a painter and poet.
Merkelys is also a Juzeliunas pupil. He participated in George Crumb’s master-classes held in Salzburg. His FlaVio (a conflation of flauto and violin) is a study in sonority and is rather dry – a little like very late Stravinsky.
Balakauskas studied with Liatoshinsky in Kiev and was ambassador to France, Spain and Portugal: 1992-94. His Rex Re has more emotional juice than the Merkelys piece but is clearly in the same line. Persistent and insistent in effect it is at times like the Ravel string quartet in its forward thrust.
Urbaitis is another Juzeliunas pupil who now teaches at the Lithuanian Music Academy. Urbaitis’s Der Fall Wagner has a sweeter warmer affekt than any of the other works. Let’s forget the Wagnerian title (heard innocently I doubt that any of us would think of Wagner) what we are more likely to relate to is a sort of minimalist Ravel with Tchaikovskian overtones. It is the most romantic, not to say sweetly-f’lavoured, of all the scores on this disc.
Not up to speed with the latest from the Lithuanian chamber scene? Here is a good place from which to launch your expedition.
Rob Barnett