Notes and Editorial Reviews
Though I’d come across the name before, this was my first actual encounter with the music of Lithuanian composer Osvaldas Balakauskas (b. 1937). I’ve mentioned in these pages before that I’m kind of a requiem nut, so I looked forward to hearing this CD, despite the fact that some of what I’d read about the composer—namely his fascination with Boulez, Stockhausen, and Xenakis, and his experiments with “octatonic” and “enneatonic” scales and harmonic patterns in combination with rhythmic systems derived from Boris Blacher—did not bode well for my anticipated pleasure. Well, this is one of those times when theory and practice turn out to be quite at odds with each other. Whatever the technical basis of Balakauskas’s work, his Requiem is a stunning creation, filled with euphonious harmonies, passages of soaring lyrical beauty, and moments of rapt Russian Orthodox-like chant that reminded me of Rachmaninoff’s Vespers. What I expected was neo-penal Penderecki, or worse. Was I ever surprised! Balakauskas’s “Russian-ness” and affinity for Romantic largesse undoubtedly have a great deal to do with his studies under Boris Lyatoshinsky at the Kiev Conservatory from 1964 to 1969, during which time he also befriended Valentin Silvestrov, another composer who, along with Latvian P?teris Vasks, can be counted among those who have written new and powerful music that is both modern and accessible. Balakauskas is no iconoclast. The techniques he employs in his Requiem, as modern and advanced as they may be, are put at the service of a style that makes no apologies for nor any attempt at escaping from its deeply Romantic roots. Quite simply, this is gorgeous music from beginning to end.
Stasys Lozoraitis, in whose memory the Requiem was written, was a Lithuanian diplomat and tireless advocate for national liberty and democratic reforms. He died in 1994, and the Requiem was completed the following year. Balakauskas himself claims to have wanted to create a traditional work, and in that aim he has succeeded admirably. There is nothing in this work intended to shock or unsettle. The text is the unaltered Latin liturgy, and the passages in which the mezzo-soprano, Judita Leitaité, sings either solo with the orchestra or set against the full choir, as in the extended section beginning at 1:16 of the “Lacrymosa,” are truly exquisite. Also, the “Hosanna” sections in both the “Sanctus” and the “Benedictus” are of fantastic rhythmic complexity and drive.
The choral and orchestral forces under the direction of Donatas Katkus sound spellbound, and are spellbinding in return. The booklet note goes into a great deal of technical detail and is very informative. At Naxos’s bargain price, this is a steal. Acquisition is mandatory. You are hereby required to purchase this CD at once.
Jerry Dubins, FANFARE