Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, Juha Kangas (cond)
"Lithuanian Works" (instead of "Baltic Works) might be a more appropriate titles for these fascinating albums, since six of the eight composers represented are from that country, though not the Latvian Peteris Vasks (b. 1946), whom the notes erroneously claim as Lithuanian (the other exception is Erkki-Sven Tüür, b. 1959, from Estonia). Collectively, the nine pieces demonstrate again the independence and vibrancy of the cultures at the eastern end of the Baltic Sea, and as with the Estonian chamber pieces I reviewed some months back (Gramophone, May), have also evaded Russification. The prevalence of minimalism probably derives from Pärt, Gorecki and Scandinavian models but is of an audibly different cast to these. Not all the pieces are uniformly successful: Mindaugas Urbaitis's (b. 1952) Lithuanian Folk Music (1990) is a tapestry of 17 folk-tunes whose treatment exposes family likenesses, but the whole becomes a kind of musical wallpaper in the process. By contrast, Music for Strings (1992) by Antanas Rekasius (b. 1928), which concludes the second disc, is wonderfully vital, and not without humour.
If you accept the definition of a symphony as the "large-scale integration of contrasts", then I fear that by Osvaldas Balakauskas (b. 1937) will not pass muster. Its 20-odd event-packed minutes are impressively atmospheric but with little sense of symphonic thrust. Its harmonic stasis is fortunately absent from Vasks's Stimmen Symphony (1990-91, inspired in part by the desperate Soviet attempts to rein in the separatist Baltic states) which has something of the immediacy of appeal of his popular Cantabile (1979). Opus lugubre (1991) by Onute Narbutaite (b. 1956; she studied with Bronius Kutavicius, b. 1932, whose intermittently Hovhanessian Northern Gates of 1991 opens Vol. 2) is more radical and compelling, suggesting she shares with Kaija Saariaho a compositional persona fusing delicacy with resilience. Of the other works, the Perpetuum mobile (1988) by Jurgis Juozapaitis (b. 1942) confounds none of the expectations one might have of such a piece; Tuur's Insular Deserta (1989) is a nicely realized nature painting; and Vasks's Cantabile steals the show in a white-hot performance that surpasses its Latvian rival. Indeed the Ostrobothnian band, one of the finest of its kind in Europe, play magnificently throughout, making both CDs worth investigating.
Guy S. Rickards
Gramophone, November 1995
Though recent interest in Peteris Vasks means that this two-disc collection is not all music from an undiscovered country, there’s plenty to explore among its roster of previously unknown names. Some listeners will already be familiar with the smooth elegiacs of Cantabile, one of two pieces by Vasks himself. The other, the Symphony for Strings, presents the ‘voices’ of stillness, of life and of conscience in a three-movement sequence that extends his expressive range within an essentially static idiom.
The oldest composer here is Antanas Rekasius (b.1928); his Music for Strings recalls Schnittke in its archaic chorales silenced by abrasive cluster chords. Pieces by other senior figures, Bronius Kutavicius and Osvaldas Balakauskas, sound indefinite in style, but for the younger composers, the faith minimalism of Arvo Pärt is clearly a beacon, not least for Mindaugas Urbaitis (b.1952) in his Lithuanian Folk Music.
The icy tentacles of melody slowly detaching themselves from glacial string harmonics in Erkki-Sven Tüür’s Insula deserta, and the Tippett-meets-John Adams swirl of Jurgis Juozapaitis’s Perpetuum mobile, are the most representative offerings from this group. Overall, the performances carry conviction and have a raw freshness of sound that mirrors the quality of unpurged artistic innocence which is the chief fascination of this school.
BBC Music Magazine