BALAKAUSKAS: Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5 (Igor Kramarev/ Juozas Domarkas/ Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra/ Romualdas Staskus) (Naxos: 8.557605)
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Osvaldas Balakauskas (b. 1937)
Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5
Osvaldas Balakauskas, one of the leading Lithuaniancomposers, graduated from the Vilnius PedagogicalInstitute in 1961, and from Boris Lyatoshinsky'scomposition class at the Kiev Conservatory in 1969.
From 1992 to 1994 he was ambassador of Lithuania, thefirst after fifty years of foreign rule, to France, Spain,and Portugal. In 1996 Balakauskas was honoured withthe Lithuanian National Award, the highest artistic andcultural distinction in Lithuania. He is head of theComposition Department of the Lithuanian Academy ofMusic and Theatre.
Balakauskas is one of the very few Lithuaniancomposers who have developed their own unique andprecise compositional system. The composer named histechnique \dodecatonic": it can be defined as theformation and elaboration of new tonal connectionwithin strict serial structures, along with no less strictlycalculated rhythm progressions. Nevertheless,Balakauskas is always able to infuse a certainrecognizable stylistic flavour into his mathematicallybuilt constructions, which could sound as similar to neoromanticor impressionist music, as to jazz. The synergyof intellect and elegance is what distinguishes his work,as well as steadfast adherence to his own rules ofcomposition, a virtue of being an enthusiastic modernistin the times of ubiquitous post-modernism.
The large list of Balakauskas' compositions isdominated by instrumental genres, chamber ensembles,symphonies, concertos. Symphonic works comprise oneof the most important parts of his output, and reveal thecomposer as a master of instrumentation, skilfullyexposing and combining radiant colours of differentorchestral groups, emphasizing the individuality andcharm of sound of solo instruments. The highlights ofBalakauskas's symphonic music include Sonata of theMountains, inspired by the art of Lithuania's greatestclassical composer and painter Mikalojus KonstantinasCiurlionis (1975); his quasi-minimalist Symphony No. 2,brimming with vigorous rhythms and sparkling colours(1979); Opera Strumentale (1987), an abstractorchestral theatre, with evocative instrumental "arias","duets" and "choruses"; also the Symphonies No. 4(1998) and No. 5 (2001), included on this disc. Thelatter two represent the new direction in Balakauskas'soeuvre; the turning-point was marked by his Requiem inmemoriam Stasys Lozoraitis, composed in 1995 [Naxos8.557604].
Symphony No. 4 was written on the occasion of thestart of the new symphonic music season at theLithuanian National Philharmonic Hall. The titles of itsthree movements, Octa, Hendeca, Deca, correspond tothe composer's invented scales of eight, eleven, and tentones respectively, which underlie the harmonicmaterial for each movement. It is in fact the harmonicprogressions determined by the use of specific scaleswhich often function as melodies or motifs inBalakauskas's music, underpinning the entire musicalfabric. As said before, this symphony reflects sometrends of the composer's recent creative period, agrowing transparency of textures, a neo-classicalrestraint of expression, a balance of form and emotion.
Within his system of scales, the composer now strives todevelop a euphonic, consonant sound, as if reverting tothe origins and traditions of European music, "tosomething familiar and recognisable". Among otherthings, this work also displays discernible signs of jazz,a flexible syncopated rhythm, flowing blues harmonies.
Various elements of early and modern music settlesmoothly into the homogenous and integral composer'smusical vocabulary.Linas Paulauskis
Symphony No. 5 was composed to a commission fromthe Vilnius Festival. The structure of this fourmovementcyclic work is not so typical of Balakauskas:when listening to this music, it seems that the one andthe same "theme" is sounding throughout allmovements. A half-hour filled with rather intensivemusic, it evokes a view of really giant painted canvases,those which need dedicated buildings for their properexhibition. An allusion to painting is not coincidentalhere: the music is indeed colourful and vital, like fourworks of art on the same subject, painted in thick andexpressive strokes. Despite the energetic rhythms andalmost big-band-like outbursts at the culminating points(as well as the absolutely unpredictable form of thecomposition), all textures are minutely detailed.
The musical material follows its course upwards anddownwards persistently and consistently, somewhatresembling the models of Hindu raga or Indonesiangamelan. Such a type of structural enclosure seemsrather unexpected, but at the same time, it is probablythe most important factor in the originality of thiscomposition. This kind of structural organization wasalways favoured by Balakauskas; on the other hand, ashift to the "minor" end in the scale of his modalvocabulary, and an increasing amount of dissonances inthe harmonic content, seems to predict new vistas in thecomposer's creative work.Sarūnas Nakas