Notes and Editorial Reviews
Back in the early 1970s Steve Reich and some friends performed a piece at Boston's Symphony Hall in which they played different combinations and permutations of a single chord on eight electric pianos--for what seemed like an hour and a half. (It actually was more like 10 or 12 minutes.) It was cute, interesting, an exhibition of what many other minimalist and pseudo avant-garde composers were doing at the time: exploring the nature of organized musical sound and human perception. But one thing it proved was that long-term repetition of one tiny little idea gets old fast, especially after the audience catches on to the trick. Since then, an occasional resurrection of those concepts, particularly focusing a whole work on expansions,
diminutions, and other alterations of a single harmony, or recycling ad nauseam a three- or four-note melodic cell, has surfaced in the work of a serious composer who believes in the power of these fundamental structures to form a consummate and presumably profound work of art. In 1978 Lithuanian composer Bronius Kutavicius created such a work, a four-movement composition titled Last Pagan Rites, for choir, organ, and horns. It's a sound-world that recalls all of the best and worst aspects of the so-called minimalist movement that alternately fascinated and distracted musicians and delighted and confounded audiences during the latter 20th century.
You will appreciate Last Pagan Rites if you find satisfaction in seventh and ninth chords (Oh You Green Grasshopper), repeating/overlapping four-note melodic segments (Celebration of the Medvegalis Hill), or incessantly repetitive seven-note patterns gratingly sung by a soprano voice against an underlying swirling, hissing dissonance (Incantation of the Serpent). And so on. Yes, there is a point to this: Last Pagan Rites is actually categorized as an oratorio--the second in a four-oratorio cycle, described as "the most successful and important Lithuanian musical event of the last 50 years." The text is by Lithuanian poet Sigitas Geda, and its words imitate a particular kind of folksong characterized by "endlessly repeating invocations to nature." The more you read about the work (a summary is provided in the liner notes) and its unique performance directions (the chorus forms into three groups, then reassembles into 10 groups of five during the opening movement; the last movement involves the choir standing in a circle around the audience), the more you realize how dependent it is on a live setting. And with no real context in which to place this otherwise static, relatively monochromatic music, a home listener is more likely than not to be left lost and ultimately unmoved.
Things don't improve much for the listener in the 1998 "symphony-oratorio" Epitaphium Temporum Pereunti (Epitaph to passing time)--except that the orchestration, rhythmic structures, and overall textures become infinitely more complex. Here an orchestra joins the proceedings, a foray into the territory of lengthier, far more developed melodic ideas and a stronger, more compelling rhythmic pulse. This four-movement piece offers huge dynamic contrasts and a wide variety of color and textural effects. Minimalist techniques still prevail, but you sense more imagination at work (or is it play?) here, and the final section, Dedicatio Ecclesiae Cathedrali, Anno 1988, a tribute to the reconsecration of the cathedral in Vilnius, manages to skillfully assemble its ideas and present them compellingly enough that you're left believing that this composer may have something to say after all.
Kudos must go to everyone involved in the performances--these works are not for the fearful. An enormous amount of effort must have gone into preparation of the recording in order to achieve such a high performance standard. The sound, too, is first rate. However, I can't help but feel that the music will have the most appeal for those who primarily study scores or whose fascination with music lies purely in the theoretical and philosophical realm. For those who appreciate minimalist techniques and wish to explore the work of a composer relatively unknown outside Europe, this recording will give you much to ponder.
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Last Pagan Rites by Bronislovas Kutavicius
Leopoldas Digrys (Organ),
Mindaukas Budzimauskas (French Horn),
Linas Dakinevicius (French Horn),
Loranas Gadeikis (French Horn),
Mindaugas Pupeikis (French Horn)
Vilinius Art School Choir
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1978; Lithuania
Date of Recording: 1996
Venue: St. Casimir Church, Vilnus, Estonia
Length: 27 Minutes 0 Secs.
Epitaphium Temporum Pereunti by Bronislovas Kutavicius
Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra,
Kaumas State Choir
Period: 20th Century
Date of Recording: 11/2000
Venue: National Philharmonic Hall, Vilnius
Length: 38 Minutes 1 Secs.
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