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
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.
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.
see also Review
by Rob Barnett