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Osvaldas BALAKAUSKAS (b. 1937)
Requiem in memoriam Stasys Lozoraitis (1995) [52:56]
Judita Leitaitė (mezzo)

Vilnius Municipal Choir ‘Jauna Muzika’/Vaclovas Augustinas
Christopher Chamber Orchestra of Vilnius/Donatas Katkus
Recorded at the Lithuanian Radio 6-10 February 2003.
NAXOS 8.557604 [52:56]

Osvaldas Balakauskas is by all accounts the leading composer in Lithuania today, as well as being one of that country’s leading teachers. He has also served his homeland as a diplomat in ambassadorial posts in France, Portugal and Spain.

The Requiem was written when prominent Lithuanian politician Stasys Lozoraitis died suddenly in 1994. His death left the nation in shock, and prompted Balakauskas to compose this, his only sacred work.

Balakauskas’ compositional style is derivative of a number of earlier ideas. He has invented his own system of serialism, which he calls dodekatonika, sometimes using all twelve pitches of the chromatic scale, and at other times using eight pitches in a pre-arranged order. He is also heavily influenced, at least in this work, by medieval and early Renaissance polyphonists. Throw in a dash of pop-culture mystics Arvo Pärt and John Tavener, and you begin to get a bit of an idea as to Balakauskas’ sound world.

Composed with the intention of being performed in concert and not liturgically, the Requiem is a rather sparse work scored for chamber orchestra, a single soloist and chorus. Balakauskas does not waste notes; in fact, he seems to use only the precise number needed to get through all the words with very little elaboration. This was a hopeful sign when I first began listening, but then I quickly got the feeling that the composer did little to get past the epidermis of the text. The music is not particularly memorable or tuneful, and if that is the case, then there needs to be some pretty interesting and original sound ideas. I just did not get the idea that the composer had plumbed the depths of this famous and emotion charged text to its full potential.

This is not a difficult work to listen to by any means, and from time to time an interesting idea pops up. From a performance standpoint, the forces here deliver a professional, well-rehearsed rendition, but there is nothing particularly remarkable about it either. Soloist Judita Leitaitė has a rich, creamy voice not over laden with vibrato. She delivers her texts with clarity and packs in as much sincerity and emotion as the music will allow (which is not much.)

It is a good thing indeed that Naxos have taken it upon themselves to bring the music of our time to the world audience. And for a certain portion of our readership, this will be an interesting curiosity, especially at Naxos’s excellent price. To these ears, however, this is work that seems destined for the library shelves not to be heard much in the future. Buy this one at your own risk.

Kevin Sutton

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