Music and Vision homepage


CD Spotlight



'Snippets of tune are bandied teasingly between the instruments...'

A Lithuanian composer -



It is an unavoidable fact of a reviewer's life to tackle the task, whatever it is, at a sitting. This is not only because time presses, which it does, but out of an omnivorous curiosity. The name of Balakauskas, the Lithuanian composer born in 1937, was new to me, and the more interesting for that. Much of his training was at Kiev Conservatoire, where I have had admirable experience of students. Jazz was an early interest of Balakauskas; Schoenberg has very obviously supervened, and more recently Boris Blacher. His treatise Dodekatonika was published in Cracow, where I too have close connections.

When Lithuania gained its independence from the Soviet Union, Balakauskas became his country's ambassador to France, then Spain and Portugal. It is touching how important a part musicians played in securing the freedom of the Baltic States, a tradition that goes back at least as far as Paderewski in Poland, not to mention the political influence of Verdi in Italy or Liszt in Hungary.

In the case of this CD I regret not having savoured the pieces in a more leisurely manner, as my fascination was indeed maintained, but a certain monotony in the music, though the works recorded here span a period of 30 years ending in 1995, took the edge off my enjoyment. The four listed players never make more than a piano trio. The pianists, one German, the other Lithuanian, take turn and turn about, and the first five works alternate between violin and piano and piano trio. For some unaccountable reason the notes, in English, French and German, add a cello to the Three Caprices, which are in fact for piano alone. Bop-Art is indeed for cello and piano. The players give a virtuoso performance of music that will defy affection for many a hearing. But advocacy such as this is unlikely to be improved on, and one can only congratulate the chamber team for negotiating hair-raising difficulties with such apparent ease and conviction.

The titles to the pieces are descriptive enough, but they too could take turn and turn about. The first work, Like the Touch of a Sea Wave, for instance, has three sections, 'As if Floating within the Blue Space', 'Like the Touch of a Sea Wave', and 'Like Listening to the Oriole's Cry'. I would defy anyone to make musical distinction here between air, water, or birdsong. That is not the point: instead there is much to admire in the generalised impressionistic technique and the ever-imaginative interchange of the two instruments. Retrospective has two parts. The initial 'Meditation' is very troubled, with hectic glissandos and fitful ostinatos. Always there are strong hints of a powerful intellect at work, making intriguing patterns from the rows and clusters that yet remain elusive. Nine Springs has an attractive clarity that relies on the subtle use of silences. The most extended piece is Rain for Cracow, written in 1991 for a session of the European Commission for Security and Co-operation. The two instruments indulge in obsessive pattern-making, expanding and contracting thematic fragments at all possible pitches and in every conceivable combination. It is a disturbing piece, composed for a city where pollution levels generated by Soviet industry remained notorious long after the fall of Communism, producing air that was unbreathable and water that was undrinkable. Bop-Art is the most recent of the recorded pieces, and refers overtly to Balakauskas's feelings for jazz. Snippets of tune are bandied teasingly between the instruments, but there is no escape from the frenetic atmosphere that always underlies what is essentially protest music.

Copyright © 6 August 2000 Robert Anderson, London, UK






 << Music & Vision home           Vaughan Williams >>