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Osvaldas BALAKAUSKAS (b. 1937)
Symphony No.4 (1998) [33:02]
Symphony No.5 (2001) [30:13]
Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra/Juazas Domarkas
rec. National Philharmonic Hall, Vilnius, May 2003 (Symphony No.4) and September 2004 (Symphony No.5)
NAXOS 8.557605 [63:14]


I somewhat delayed reviewing this disc, mainly because it has already been thoroughly reviewed here. Both Rob Barnett’s and Göran Forsling’s reviews told you all you need to know about these recent symphonies by one of Lithuania’s foremost composers. So, what else could I say about them? Well, I already knew some of Balakauskas’ music, and I naively thought that I had a clear view of his musical progress, from traditionally conceived early works such as his Piano Concertino (1966, rev. 1994) to mature late works such as Concerto Brio (1999) and his beautiful Requiem (1995) with some intermediary works exploring Minimalism or polystylism à la Schnittke, as in Ludus modorum for cello and orchestra (1972). Not quite so, since his latest symphonies show the composer still exploring new territories. The Fourth and Fifth Symphonies inhabit a completely new sound-world characterised by recourse to Blues and Jazz, albeit in a relatively superficial way. If you compare the rather obvious jazzy and bluesy inflections displayed here with Mark-Anthony Turnage’s deeper absorption of these idioms you will see what I mean. This said, both scores do not lack in imagination and character; and, what is more, each of them has its own personality. Symphony No.4 is mostly melodic throughout its three movements, with much understatement, though with enough dynamic contrast and melodic invention to sustain long spans of music. The outer movements are generally song-like in character, whereas the central dance-like Scherzo never really unleashes the full orchestral forces and, actually, moves on in moderate tempi. On the other hand, the Fifth Symphony is much more varied in terms of tempi, dynamics and global sound-world, this time ‘spiced-up’ with more dissonance than its predecessor. The music, too, is considerably more assertive and more contrasted, although much of the writing  remains warmly melodic. The most obvious common characteristic is the remarkable orchestral mastery on display. Both scores abound in felicitous touches of scoring; and the opening of the Fourth Symphony’s first movement is one of the most beautifully atmospheric orchestral textures that I have heard in recent works. Another striking feature of both works is the composer’s ability to sustain long symphonic paragraphs with unflagging invention and imagination, and with almost effortless resourcefulness in handling apparently limited basic material. This is surely the touch of a true symphonist.

These substantial scores bear ample proof of the composer’s tireless quest for new expressive means, which is likely to yield further, unexpected results.

The performances are really very fine, carefully prepared, thoroughly convincing, and nicely recorded. This fine release is likely to win Balakauskas new admirers and to encourage further recordings of some of his major works that clearly deserve to be heard. This release is a most desirable sequel to Naxos’s slightly earlier recording of the Requiem, and will hopefully lead to more recordings of his music, e.g. the earlier symphonies ... for a start.

Hubert Culot

see also Reviews by Göran Forsling and Rob Barnett


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