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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Osvaldas BALAKAUSKAS (b. 1937)
Requiem - in memoriam Stasys Lozoraitis (1995)
Judita Leitaté (mezzo)
Vilnius Municipal Choir Jauna Muzika/Vaclovas Augustinas
Christoph Chamber Orchestra of Vilnius/Donatas Katkus
Rec. Lithuanian Radio, 6-10 Feb 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.557604 [52:56]


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.

Balakauskas’s work 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.

Rob Barnett



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