Enquiring and adventurous
listeners at one time had to pay top
dollar to slake their thirst. And to
get these imports and rare CDs they
had to know the right supplier. It was
not easy. There are still rare and rewarding
discs to be had and sometimes at considerable
expense. However at least two sources
now offer inexpensive catalogues of
contemporary and not so contemporary
music out of the tired and worn ruts
of the repertoire. Many of the Music
Information Centres, especially those
for the Baltic and Scandinavian states,
have built significant lists of discs
for sale. Then there is that colossus
of the classical industry, Naxos which
bring us to the present disc.
is not a requiem that introduces other
texts. It cleaves to the Latin. The
movements are Requiem, Kyrie, Dies Irae,
Tiba Mirum, Rex Tremendae, Recordare,
Confutatis, Domine Jesu, Hostias, Sanctus,
Benedictus, Lacrymosa, Agnus Dei.
This is no super-dreadnought
of a Requiem. Its message and effect
is registered in austerity not flamboyance.
Just listen to the Agnus dei for
confirmation. Its emotional world is
lit by finely judged musical effects
- the glint of the harpsichord, the
pecked out melodic shards of woodwind
in Sanctus and the grumbling contrabassoon
in the Agnus dei. There is an undemonstrative
integrity about this writing. Nothing
feels synthetic although the almost
leaf-skeletal sound during the Requiem
(tr. 1) sounds unnervingly thin at first.
As for Balakuskas’s approach to choral
setting he is abstemious with long-spinning
themes and instead often writes phrases
in cells or units which are set in a
sort of softened staccato. I would liken
the writing to that of Michael Tippett
but applied with a sort of micro-surgery,
and something approaching emotional
tentativeness. If you react badly to
effusive flamboyance in such works this
Requiem might well be just what you
have been waiting for. The performance
has been very carefully prepared and
is most lovingly delivered by everyone
even if the vinegary edge to Judita
Leitaté’s voice takes off some
of the polish. But for this Leitaté
sounds rather like Janet Baker.
Given Lithuania’s satellite
status at the time it is no surprise
to learn that Balakauskas studied at
the Kiev Conservatoire between 1964
and 1969. There his teacher was that
arch-conservative Boris Lyatoskinsky.
This was balanced out by friendships
forged with Leonid Hrabovsky and more
significantly with Valentin Silvestrov.
His return to Vilnius in 1972 coincided
with the thawing of ice-walls allowing
the flooding in of experimentalism from
Warsaw, Paris and Berlin. Balakauskas
was affected by Messiaen and by Darmstadt
dissonance. Over the years this moderated
dramatically reduced down to a pristine
simplicity which yet avoids the cerebral
or the excesses of religiosity - even
in a requiem. This is in fact the composer’s
only ‘religious’ work.
Music of simplicity
and integrity. Not minimalistic - so
not a brother to Reich, Nyman or Glass.
Not mystical so evading any parallels
with Tavener or Messiaen.