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Osvaldas BALAKAUSKAS (b. 1937)
Requiem in memoriam Stasys Lozoraitis (1995)
Judita Leitaité (mezzo); Vilnius Municipal Choir “Jauna Muzika”;
Christopher Chamber Orchestra of Vilnius/Donatas Katkus
Recorded: Lithuanian Radio, February 2003
NAXOS 8.557604 [52:56]


Osvaldas Balakauskas and his slightly older colleague Bronius Kutavičius (b. 1932) are the most important Lithuanian composers of their generation; and both may be regarded as the fathers of modern music in Lithuania, although each of them had his own approach. Kutavičius is more of a choral composer; he was an organist and choir director for many years. Balakauskas’s output comprises mainly instrumental music, chamber and orchestral as well; he wrote a number of concertos, some of which are available on BIS CD-1058.

His recent Requiem in memoriam Stasys Lozoraitis, completed in 1995, is unique in his present output. It is his first religious work. Second, the musical idiom of the Requiem is simpler and more direct than that of his instrumental music. The music’s directness, however, is also quite different from Pärt’s Baltic Holy Minimalism or Tavener’s Byzantine Mysticism. Sizewise, Balakauskas’ Requiem is closer to those by Fauré, Duruflé, Rutter or Andrew Worton-Steward than to the large-scale ones by Verdi, Britten, Penderecki or Frank Martin. It is scored for modest forces: mezzo-soprano, mixed chorus and chamber orchestra - strings, a few winds and harpsichord. There is nevertheless a clearly audible difference when put alongside these settings of the Requiem Mass. It does not possess the consolatory power of, say, Rutter’s or Duruflé’s Requiem settings. In fact, the concluding Agnus Dei section suggests hard-won appeasement rather than final consolation. Significantly enough, too, the composer did not set the In Paradisum section of the Requiem Mass. The music, although steeped in modality and old liturgical chant, displays considerable harmonic tension maintained throughout the whole work. The music begins almost unnoticed, but immediately suggests deep sadness and a profound sense of loss. On the other hand, it eschews the dramatic aspects found in many other Requiem settings. Even the Tuba mirum and the Dies irae sections are remarkably restrained when compared to Britten’s or Verdi’s works, not to mention the earth-shattering Tuba mirum from Berlioz’s monumental Requiem. Balakauskas’s setting possesses a considerable expressive strength, for all its emotional restraint. It is also sometimes poignantly moving. One just has to listen to the beautiful Hostias [track 8] and the Lacrymosa [track 11], both somewhat reminiscent of Gorecki,  to gain a good idea of his brand of lyricism. This Requiem is a deeply-felt tribute to Stasys Lozoraitis who was a much respected personality at the time of the country’s independence in 1992-1993. His sudden and untimely death shocked many Lithuanian intellectuals and artists and many others.

It is a substantial work that obviously means much to the present performers who all sing and play with dedication and conviction. The recorded sound is sometimes on the dry side, but is on the whole suited to the music’s harmonic stringency. Balakauskas’ Requiem is one of his most readily accessible works, and one that fully repays repeated hearings. In short, a major, deeply moving work by a most distinguished, sincere and honest composer that fully deserves wider exposure. Do not hesitate to give this most welcome release a try.

Hubert Culot

see also Review by Rob Barnett


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