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Vytautas BACEVIČIUS (1905-1970)
Poème électrique for orchestra, Op.16 (1932) [5:29]
Piano Concerto No. 1 Sur les thèmes lituaniens Op.12 (1929) [14:16]
Symphony No.2 Della Guerra Op.32 (1940) [21:07]
Symphony No.6 Cosmique Op.66 (1960) [12:17]
Graphique for orchestra Op.68 (1964) [12:57]
Aidas Puodžiukas (piano)
Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra/Vytautas Lukočius (all except concerto); Martinus Staškus (concerto)
rec. Vilnius 2003-2005
first recordings
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC 0049 [66:06]

Sound Sample
Opening of Symphony 2: Allegro
Sound samples are removed after two months


 

 

 

The new Toccata Classics label has been created expressly to explore unjustly neglected repertoire. It claims to be the first label to tackle forgotten repertoire head-on, recording only the music that has not yet gained the audience it deserves. I am sure that a few other independent labels would perhaps justifiably dispute that. However, the small but growing Toccata catalogue reveals riches such as music by Baltic 20th- and 21st-century composers, music by neglected composers from earlier times such as Mysliveček, Taneyev, Nín and Kapsberger and treasures from British music by the likes of Donald Tovey, Havergal Brian and Matthew Taylor.

I have to admit that, although I am particularly interested in music from the Baltic region, I had not come across the name of the Lithuanian composer Vytautas Bacevičius before, nor does Grove carry any independent reference to him. It transpires that he was actually the brother of the Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz (1919-69). Confused? Let me expand. For many centuries Poland and Lithuania were very closely linked – right up to the First World War. The border between Poland and Lithuania slithered east and west several times over the years and its current location represents possibly its westernmost position of all. Both Vytautas Bacevičius and Grażyna Bacewicz were born in Łódź (pronounced ‘woodge’), Poland’s second city. It seems the family divided between Kaunas in Lithuania, where Bacevičius lived with his father and Łódź, where Bacewicz lived with her mother. While Grażyna Bacewicz has enjoyed a little recognition as a composer outside her native Poland (especially with the Concerto for Strings), Bacevičius’s reputation seems to have faltered, partly due, perhaps, to Lithuania being swallowed up into the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union after World War II until regaining independence in 1990 and his somewhat unsuccessful move to the United States in 1940, where he failed to promote his music adequately, eking out a living as a music teacher and sometime pianist. His major works include six symphonies, four piano concertos, a violin concerto and piano music.

This enterprising disc of first recordings provides a more or less chronological survey of some of Bacevičius’s more important music. I was immediately struck by the power and originality of what I heard and wondered how on earth this could have been the first time I had had the opportunity to hear any of these works. The earliest piece on the CD is his one-movement Piano Concerto No.1 Sur les thèmes lituaniens from 1929. The piece is not one that the listener would immediately recognise as being inspired by folk music, so deeply imbedded are the themes in a style reminiscent of late Skryabin and Szymanowski. There also some very faint echoes of Debussy. This 14-minute ‘concerto’ falls into four sections but they do not readily translate to what one normally expects of this genre.

In the Poème électrique, Bacevičius’ style has moved on. Gone are the ‘exotic’ harmonies and complex rhythms. These are replaced by a ‘machinist’ style which brings to mind other music from around this time such as Mosolov’s Iron Foundry, Honegger’s Pacific 231 and Prokofiev’s Pas d’acier, Second Symphony and, from a little earlier, the first movement of the Scythian Suite. This is music of little beauty but plenty of raw power, dazzling colours and a wonderful inner forward momentum.

The Second Symphony, entitled Della Guerra (from the war) was begun during his trip to South America in 1940, whence he travelled to the USA, never to return to his native country. In mood and atmosphere it brought to my mind another great three-movement symphony which reflects on war, Honegger’s Symphonie liturgique. The Swiss composer’s symphony could have been a template for Bacevičius’ powerful work, were it not for the fact that Honegger’s piece post-dates this work by five years! Bacevičius does not have Honegger’s lyrical gift – he was not a great composer of melody - but the sincerity and passion behind the music is never in doubt. The Second Symphony has a very specific programme – in the first movement bombs raining down upon Poland, the second portraying the sorrow of war and the burying of the dead and the third the mainland battle for Western Europe. The language here has become slightly more conservative, reflecting the composer’s attempt at ingratiating himself and his music to a conservative American audience.

The Sixth Symphony dates from twenty years later than the Second and everything is more concise. The language is more complex again, but less aggressive and I enjoyed just letting the music ‘happen’ to me. The final work on this disc was Bacevičius’ last orchestral composition. Graphique displays the most advanced and abstract development of the composer’s language. Some of it sounds quite a lot like Varèse and Xenakis and as a whole it sometimes displays an almost pointillistic technique, exploring sound for sound’s sake but always within a taught and well thought-out structure.

The Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra was created at the time of Lithuania’s self-proclaimed independence from the Soviet Union in 1989 and proves to be an excellent body of musicians. The performances here are all first rate and as committed as anyone could wish. The artists involved are all from Lithuania’s younger generation, Vytautas Lukočius, a former pupil of Segerstam and Panula at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Martinus Staškus, a winner of several conducting competitions and the exciting young pianist Aidas Puodžiukas, winner of several competitions. All produce musical and exciting results and offer the best possible advocacy for this unjustly neglected music.

Although the CD booklet does not give specifics about the recording venue(s), I have to say the sound smacks slightly of the radio studio rather than a concert hall. The recording is excellent, allowing the detail, colour and complexity of this fascinating music to come through, although at times I wished the ambience was slightly warmer, allowing the music to ‘breathe’ a little more easily.

For anyone remotely interested in Eastern European Music and particularly from between the wars, this is a ‘must have’. Like me you will, I am sure, make a wonderful discovery.

Derek Warby

 

See also review by Rob Barnett

 


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