Mikolajus čIURLIONIS (1875-1911)
Piano Music, vol. 2
Prelude, VL 239 [2:15]
Prelude, VL 241 [1:26]
Prelude, VL 256 [4:04]
Prelude, VL 259 [0:49]
Pater Noster, VL 260 [2:35]
Autumn, VL 264 [1:58]
3 Autumn Pieces (Preludes) on a Theme, VL 271-269 [6:46]
Prelude, VL 294 [1:15]
Prelude, VL 295 [1:51]
Impromptu, VL 298 [1:05]
Prelude, VL 304 [1:04]
Prelude, VL 325 [2:57]
Prelude, VL 327 [1:08]
Prelude, VL 330 [1:25]
Prelude, VL 335 [1:42]
Prelude, VL 338 [2:41]
Prelude, VL 340 [1:18]
Prelude, VL 343 [1:07]
Prelude, VL 344 [2:10]
Fugue in B flat minor, VL 345 [5:45]
String Quartet, VL 83 (1901-02) (incomplete; 3 movements arr. Muza Rubackyte) [24:12]
Muza Rubackyte (piano)
rec. Clara Wieck Auditorium, Heidelberg, Germany, 13-16 April 1993. DDD
NAXOS 8.572660 [69:35]

As is evident from the recording date, this is a re-issue, previously released in 1994, and the second of two volumes of Lithuanian composer Mikolajus čiurlionis's piano music originally issued by Marco Polo, now part of the Naxos stable. Volume 1, recorded at the same time and place, also featuring mainly Preludes and a single second shorter than this recording, was released a few weeks earlier (8.572659).

In 2010 Celestial Harmonies released a 5-CD boxed set of čiurlionis's 'Complete Piano Music Volumes 1-5', played by Nikolaus Lahusen (19923-2). Volume 1 (13184-2) had first appeared in 2000, followed at intervals by other volumes. The boxed set does not represent a huge saving over five individual CDs, so the potential buyer may wish to consider a pick 'n' mix approach, perhaps combining the two Naxos/Marco Polo volumes with some by Lahusen. Indeed, greater savings are possible because the first three Lahusen volumes are available as MP3 downloads from Amazon at almost half the CD price.

Presumably there are more volumes to come from Celestial Harmonies, as čiurlionis's Piano Sonata VL 155, his key work from Naxos vol.1, has so far not appeared, nor has the Prelude VL 182a from the same. The keys that the pieces were written in were given in the Marco Polo original, but for some reason have been omitted from the Naxos makeover. Keys and, where appropriate, opus numbers are given in the Lahusen set, even if the latter are not always strictly adhered to in playing orders. That is probably the worst thing about the two Naxos volumes - the dateless VL numbers are only meaningful to specialists, and whatever the logic behind Vytautas Landsbergis's new catalogue* - not explained in the booklet - čiurlionis's official opuses, which presumably had some internal coherence, are scattered to the winds.

However, by cross-referencing VL numbers, some of čiurlionis's opuses can be reconstructed from the two Naxos volumes. The following are available in their entirety:

op.3 (4 pieces): no.1: Prelude, VL 169; no.2: Humoresque, VL 162; no.3: Mazurka, VL 234; no.4: Prelude, VL 164 (all vol.1)
op.4 (2 pieces): no.1: Nocturne, VL 178; no.2: Impromptu, VL 181 (both vol.1)
op.6 (2 pieces): no.1: Prelude, VL 184; no.2: Nocturne, VL 183 (both vol.1)
op.7 (4 Preludes): no.1: Prelude, VL 185; no.2: Prelude VL 187; no.3: Prelude, VL 186; no.4: Prelude, VL 188 (all vol.1)
op.8 (2 pieces): no.1: Prelude, VL197; no.2: Mazurka, VL 222 (both vol.1)
op.11 (2 pieces): no.1: Prelude, VL 230; no.2: Dainelé, VL 199 (both vol.1)
op.20 (3 Preludes): 3 Autumn Pieces (Preludes) on a Theme, VL 271-269 (vol.2)
op.45 (1 Fugue): Fugue in B flat minor, VL 345 (vol.2)

The following are incomplete to greater or lesser degrees:

op.12 (3 pieces): no.1: Prelude, VL 239 (vol.2)
op.13 (3 Preludes): no.1: Prelude, VL 241 (vol.2)
op.16 (4 Preludes): no.2: Prelude, VL 259; no.3: Prelude, VL 256 (both vol.2)
op.17 (3 pieces): no.1: Pater Noster, VL 260; no.2: Autumn, VL 264 (both vol.2)
op.21 (4 Preludes in D minor): no.1 Prelude, VL 294; no.2: Prelude, VL 295 (both vol.2)
op.22 (5 Preludes): no.5: Prelude, VL 304 (vol.2)
op.31 (4 Preludes): no.1: Prelude, VL 325; no.2: Prelude, VL 327 (both vol.2)
op.32 (3 Preludes): no.3: Prelude, VL 335 (vol.2)
op.33 (6 Preludes): no.1: Prelude, VL 338; no.3: Prelude, VL 340; no.5: Prelude, VL 343; no.6: Prelude, VL 344 (all vol.2)

Not all čiurlionis's pieces have opus numbers - that was doubtless Landsbergis's motivation behind his catalogue. In the many such cases the VL number remains an invaluable aid to identification.

The booklet notes are more or less identical to the first volume, and not very informative at all about the works played here by Paris-based Lithuanian pianist Muza Rubackyte. Only the incomplete String Quartet's original date of composition is given, and note made that the Fugue in B flat minor was čiurlionis's last piano work. Here the Celestial Harmonies edition is little help - only volume 1 includes dates.

As with the Naxos Volume 1, this is primarily a disc of miniatures - most of the 16 Preludes are under two minutes long and, in light of the above remarks regarding opuses, many must be considered on their strength as individual items. The Preludes on volume 1 bore a VL number in the late 100s, whereas these are late 200s and 300s, an indication, confirmed by the notes, that these are later works. The Grieg-like lyric pieces of volume 1 have been replaced by more impressionistic and harmonically ambiguous items, particularly in the last four or five, where the influence of Szymanowski's now published early piano pieces can be heard. Nevertheless, there is still everywhere lovely melody in abundance, and echoes of Chopin are still apparent. Like Chopin and Szymanowski, čiurlionis can pack an awful lot of music - and not necessarily notes - into two minutes.

The only substantial work length-wise is a filler, but a fine one: an intelligent transcription of čiurlionis's incomplete but attractive String Quartet by Rubackyte herself. The String Quartet has been recorded once before in its original form, by the Vilnius Quartet on a 1998 Russian Disc release (10008), a 48-minute recording of the composer's 'Complete String Quartet Music'. Happily, čiurlionis's music is beginning to crop up with increasing regularity on various labels - some of his organ works were recorded in a Lithuanian programme by the German organist Martin Rost for MDG, released in 2009 (review), for example.

As there is no mention of re-mastering, the Naxos volumes are presumably undoctored 1993 recordings. Sound quality is very good, if perhaps mildly tinny. A good five seconds of silence have thoughtfully been allowed at the ends of tracks, and included in the timings on the track-listing, as given above. All Naxos appear to have done to the original, in fact, is give it a new coat of paint - mainly a new cover picture - one of čiurlionis's, wearing his painter's hat - for their white-look booklet. The notes have not been updated, and Rubackyte's photograph shows her as having aged remarkably little for a 52-year-old!

Rubackyte, a former child prodigy, made this recording at a relatively early stage in her career. Nowadays she is widely considered an outstanding performer of Liszt. Recently she has recorded Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues for Brilliant Classics, as well as Franck's Quintet in F minor with the Vilnius Quartet for the same label (review). čiurlionis's piano music is a fair bit more straightforward than that of Liszt or Shostakovich, admittedly, but she nevertheless pays it great respect and her lovely lyrical tone, discipline and expressiveness ensure a persuasive performance. What would be good would be for Naxos to now ask her to record the rest of čiurlionis's worthy piano music.

Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk

Rubackyte pays this music great respect and her lovely lyrical tone, discipline and expressiveness ensure persuasive performances.

* Editor’s Note: Vytautas Landsbergis, one time Lithuanian head of state, recorded a selection of Ciurlioni’s piano music in 1998. This was issued on EMI Classics 7243 5 66791 2 2 under the title Born of the Human Soul. Landsbergis returned to the project again in 2009 with a two CD set of Ciurlionis’s piano solos issued by the Lithuanian National Philharmonic Society.