14 May 2016

Feliksas Bajoras: String Symphony 'Stalactites'

After a bit of a break from concerts and other things, I thought it'd be nice to return to a wonderful work I have been in love with since I first heard it back in 2014. Feliksas Bajoras (1934) is a rather remarkable and wild creature. His music is quite fascinating for many reasons, firstly its curious obsession with folklore often drawing on ancient Lithuanian traditions or folktales. Another element is the wildness and often bizarre harmonic language. It is futile to place him within a certain '-ism' because he regularly and purposely contradicts himself. Going from beautiful rich harmonies to devastating dissonances brimming with energy and power.

His String symphony is a great example of this brutal power and rich beauty. The work's title and subtitles comes from reflection of a trip to the then Czechoslovakia. Each segment is nicknamed after different landmarks or impressions like the Tatra Mountains, Vychegrad, Jewish Cemetery, and Prague to name a few.  

The work in itself is continuous and undivided but the Naxos recording has separated it into 9 chunks:

Tatra Mountains - Starts with a low pulsing and a growing melody in the low strings. The harmonies are gorgeous and constantly rolling along only being interrupted by odd colour changes. The chorale-like nature is hypnotic and is very peaceful.

Castles - is instantly more playful. Ideas fly from violins to the cellos in a cheeky and bouncy to and fro. It is suddenly destroyed and becomes oddly cautious. With ideas creepy in and disappearing.

Our Guide - has a solo viola singing above a rolling cloud from the rest of the orchestra. It is a brief but beautiful interlude.

Macocha - Starts will a jolt and suddenly notes hang in space. The oddly shifting harmonies are peculiar but mesmerising. The harmonics hang like stars and leave you enthralled. This slowly begins to disappear when more frantic elements slowly work their way into the section. Adding an unease and impatience to the otherwise timeless movement.

Lidice - Is frantic, with a fast pulsing bass melody countering the slow string chorale. Suddenly it bursts into a brutal and intense rendition of the chorale, grabbing you by the scruff of the neck screaming it at you.

Vyeshrad - Grows with flashes and shimmers, which fly past like insects. The chorale material brief reappears, but is so stretched and broken it is almost unrecognisable. It takes on a sadder and mournful beauty. 

Jewish Cemetery - Is dizzying, starting with circling aleatoric cells creating a small whirlwind. All melody and counterpoint is torn apart. Constantly desperate to grow into something substantial but always failing. 

 Prague - Bursts into life, pulsing and driving itself along like a train. The playful interaction has a slightly more sinister sensation this time around. Brutal and harsh stabs disrupt never allowing the listener or performer to rest. The section grows with energy and intensity building and building until reaching a powerful driving climax. 

Departure -  Is quite a simple section, with the aleatoric elements going from a monstrous fffff to pppp, but the effect is pretty powerful. All sense of stability is gone and all is left is the fading chaos. 

This is probably my favourite piece by Bajoras, it really shows his craft off well and does show that you don't need to be striving for brand new to be interesting. The work is powerful and fascinating and achieves it through pretty modest means. A trait I do adore in composers. There is a glorious recording produced by Naxos and can be heard here on Spotify.

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