Notes and Editorial Reviews
Vytautas Barkauskas (b. 1931) is a prolific Lithuanian composer and professor of composition at the Lithuanian Academy of Music. (He is not to be confused with the similarly named Osvaldas Balakauskas, b. 1935?although their music strikes me as comparable in many ways.) Barkauskas has written six symphonies, a vast amount of chamber and piano music, and notable works for solo string instruments: this Partita for solo violin has been in Gidon Kremer?s repertoire for years and appeared on Kremer?s 1997 CD ?From My home? (Warner-Teldec). In the 1960s, Barkauskas used the serial system, the first Lithuanian composer to do so, and was strongly influenced by avant-gardists
Penderecki, Lutos?awski, and Ligeti. However, like several other serialists, he later re-embraced tonality?without wholly rejecting avant-garde techniques (such as tone clusters). As he himself puts it, ?I do not restrict myself to any single, defined compositional system, but am constantly searching for a natural stylistic synthesis.? That synthesis is managed through the composer?s fastidious ear for color and tight control over form. Judging from the works recorded here, his music is built on the repetition and development of discrete thematic blocks: pieces of figuration, fast or slow, and scale passages. Juxtaposition is a crucial element of musical structure for him. In the concertante works, his imaginative orchestration is notable for the use of the piano in the extreme treble register, which gives a glittery brilliance to the sound. As you would imagine from the caliber of the soloists here, not to mention Kremer, Bashmet, and others who champion his work, Barkauskas?s string-writing is idiomatic. (And showy!)
These two concertos were written recently, in the composer?s 70s, and were recorded live in concert. This performance of the Duo concertante is, in fact, its premiere. An intriguing work, the double concerto is dedicated to the Japanese diplomat Chihune Sugihara and his wife Yukiko, who were resident in Lithuania in 1940. Through their efforts in granting transit visas to Japan at considerable personal risk, they saved 10,000 Lithuanian Jews from certain death in the Nazi internment camps. The concerto has no overt program, but in a general way the listener can relate it to the wartime story. The first movement plunges into a flurry of restless activity, with the viola scurrying around in rapid figuration?as though trapped by it?until the violin enters with sweet harmonics and a calming legato line. The second movement evokes a specifically Japanese ambience; it opens quietly with gong and wood block. When the soloists enter, their music is played without vibrato in imitation of native Japanese instruments. The movement develops unhurriedly as piano and orchestral strings fill out the texture, and ends quietly as it began: a refuge from the storm, as it were. The subsequent movements bring more varied incidents; finally, the piece explodes into a passage of vigorous drumming and a triumphant shout from the orchestral musicians to close.
Tuned wood blocks (or temple blocks as they are sometimes called) and piano also feature strongly in the orchestration of
, but here they are used in a jazzy way. Barkauskas wrote this concerto for Philippe Graffin to premiere at the violinist?s own ?Consonances? Music Festival in Saint Nazaire, France. Graffin had travelled to Vilnius primarily because of his desire to visit the birthplace of Jascha Heifetz; he met Barkauskas (whose Partita he had heard played by Kremer) and offered him the position of composer-in-residence for the 2002 festival.
was the result: another colorful, energetic work with plenty of bravura in the solo part. As the title suggests, the piece is essentially playful; it contains one especially memorable staccato passage for the soloist accompanied by furtive clarinets.
In both these live concerto performances, Graffin plays with tremendous accuracy of pitch and a sweet tone. He is one of the most interesting young fiddlers around (familiar to
readers for his Hyperion recordings of Saint-Saëns concertos and other French repertoire). Nobuko Imai is, of course, an international star with a long recording career; her rich sound is a great asset to this collection. The orchestras both give their all under Servenikas, undoubtedly prompted by a sense of occasion. For a first public performance, this assured rendition of the Duo concertante must have pleased the composer immensely. (The audience certainly enjoyed it.)
The performers shine in their solo pieces too. The Partita from 1967 uses 20th-century dance forms?rumba, blues, and beguine?in a Baroque format. Graffin attacks the work with aplomb as a lively five-minute encore. The two viola
are more inward looking and reflective; Imai?s lovely tone invests them with genuine emotion.
Avie must be congratulated for making these recordings available. No apologies need be made for the sound, even though these are (mostly) live concerts. The disc is clearer and more natural sounding than many studio efforts. Highly recommended.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott
Works on This Recording
Jeux, Op. 117 by Vytautas Barkauskas
Philippe Graffin (Violin)
Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra
Partita by Vytautas Barkauskas
Philippe Graffin (Violin)
Period: 20th Century
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