2 December 2015

Stasys Vainiunas - Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra

Another installment arrives earlier this week, as I will be flitting off for a few days and didn't want to get lazy with this blog. It also ties in nicely with my little trip to the music book shop near the old town in Vilnius. I popped in, mostly to buy a friend a birthday present, but came across four scores of Lithuanian composers being sold at an extremely modest price, so I couldn't turn down the opportunity. One of those scores was Stasys Vainiunas's Concerto No. 2 for piano and orchestra.

Stasys Vainiunas (1909-82) is an intriguing composer, mostly from the sense of the fact he was in the first generation to be composing under Soviet occupation. What this ultimately meant was he and composers like Balsys Dvarionas and Antanas Raciunas had to write 'socialist realist' music. Despite the hindrances from external forces the music has some wonderful characteristics, which I think no regime could stamp out. Vainiunas himself was a composer and pianist, which like Chopin and Liszt before him, led him to write primarily for the instrument.

The concerto is a charming and modest three movement concerto. The modesty is probably what drew me to it. I am always put off by sickly sweet pieces which are too self indulgent, its my main complaint of a lot of composers between 1800-now. The form of the first movement is quite a curious little thing. The introduction of the movement is three major segments, with the opening material reappearing to round it off before the soloist gets going. What is interesting is how the introduction material gives away the entire shape of the movement. The rest of the movement plays around on the three areas really exploring their character and shape. The faster material is a modest nod to sutartines with its pulsing and irregular rhythms combined with intervals of a second.

The second movement is a rounded binary shape, with a beautiful harmonisation of the Lithuanian folk tune Beaustanti Ausrele, and the middle being a fast paced rhythmical material which also harks back to sutartines. The simplicity of the shape and open clarity of the harmonies makes the movement quite touching, and is oddly very similar to moment of Gustav Holst or Ralph Vaughan-Williams; especially in their slow melodic movements.

The Final movement is a pianistic tour de force, but is never to bombastic. Its sense of restraint and modesty makes the gestures more meaningful and feels like a necessary concerto and not another piece to bolster the ego of another diva.

Coming across this piece has been quite intriguing, mostly because I have had to do some serious digging to find out about him. The generation of composers in the Soviet era have ultimately been swept under the rug, as understandably, people don't want to reminisce about that period. What also strikes me is how knowing British audiences would adore this piece, mostly the Classic FM variety, but like many composers they become neglected because they are unfamiliar names. Which ultimately is sad, Classic FM listeners could have a wonderfully broad and international palette of music to listen to, but are constantly spoon fed a thousand renditions of Fur Elise or the New world symphony. 

But to come back to the point. Stasys Vainiunas, is a charming composer, who if under different circumstances could have produced something more 'modern'. But the sheer craftsmanship and elegance of the work goes beyond that.

So enjoy the recording below, sadly I could only find recordings online of the first two movements. Next time I will discuss another one of my findings. 

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