27 January 2017

Distant Light - Tolimos Sviesos

Last night bared witness to my first all Baltic concert of 2017. The St. Christopher's Chamber Orchestra, alongside the soloist Giedre Zarenaite, performed a rather wonderful collection of pieces by some of the most original figures within the Baltic. I was extremely excited about this concert for a very long time for multiple reasons, firstly the combination of composers was just brilliant, and I was extremely curious to see how Giedre Zarenaite would approach such a significant work for violin and strings.

After a wonderful introduction from Donatas Katkus, Giedre approached the stage to perform Bronius Kutavicius's Andata e Ritorno for solo violin. The work itself is very typical of the composer, with its pulsating opening figure and slowly building form. Despite the highly technical demands of the work, Giedre always managed to bring out the lyrical qualities and pulsations without sounding like a performing robot. The connection with the piece showed Giedre's wonderful understanding of the work managing to deliver her own interpretation. So from a rather modest example of Bronius Kutavicius, Giedre managed to always hint at the brilliance within the grand composer as well as within her own artistic vision.

Then, after the charming work, came one of my favourite works for violin and orchestra Tala Gaisma by Peteris Vasks. The work, originally written for Gideon Kremer, stands as one of the most seminal works by Peteris Vasks, and has gone on to define his musical utterances to this day. Having enjoyed massive international interest, the virtuosic work has a vast array of performances and interpretations. I was particularly curious to witness how Giedre would approach such a mainstay of the contemporary violin repertoire. The work is ultimately defined by five key regions, which are separated by multiple cadenzas. In some of the lesser performances, soloists are often drawn into milking or dragging the slower melodic passages, and filling the performance with huge dramatic pauses. Giedre and Modestas Barkauskas did not fall into this trap. The sheer control and projection of message by Giedre was inspired. Throughout, every single gesture felt purposeful and necessary. She never became self indulgent or sentimental, but rather focused on the architecture and significance of the musical gesture within the larger narrative. This combined with the focused control of Modestas Barkauskas led to a rather intriguing and original interpretation of the work. The quality of the performance bought out the almost baroque quality of the structure and demonstrated this ornate design which very few performers bring out. It was definitely a memorable performance, and without question probably my favourite rendition of the work. If Giedre Zarenaite approaches all pieces with the same focus, control, and understanding of the music she will make herself quite a vital performer delivering highly focused and well informed performances.

Following this came a rather underperformed work by Arvo Part, Trisagion for string orchestra. The piece is one of the earliest examples of his famous tintinnabuli but in comparison to the likes of Tabula Rasa or Passio the dramatic focus seems to be more obvious and direct. The musical dialogue is presented in a raw but powerful manner and the result is one of my favourites of his entire output. Modestas Barkauskas was particularly intune with this piece, always bringing out the strongest and most potent qualitities of the gestures. The fragile elements were crystalline and the powerful gestures roared like the largest organ. A rather elegant rendition indeed.

The finale came in the form of Antanas Rekasius's Muzika styginiams. Rekasius has been witnessing a revival in Lithuania, thanks in part to the interest of Apartment House in London, as well as local musicology. The composer is extremely hard to define, but in a rather reductionist manner he is a kind of Ives-ian figure; namely he stands as such a singular renegade that noone else in the region could sound quite like him. This is particularly true of Muzika styginiams. The open heavy handed passacaglia figure which is interrupted with violent textural gestures makes for a rather mind-bending dialogue of the blatantly familiar and the terrifying unknown. Modestas Barkauskas seemed in his element with this work. The rendition was strong and forceful, hammering the musical material into our ears, forcing us to consume this magnificent insanity. 

The whole concert was a real treat for my ears, not just because of my love of the composers. The interpration and focus of the St. Christopher Orchestra under Modestas Barkauskas was extremely solid and very well controlled. The contour of the concert as a whole was also intriguing as well, there was a sensation of grander narrative within the concert as a whole, as well as within the composers's singular pieces. I am beyond glad I went and I sincerely hope I get to witness more concerts of this calibre over the course of 2017.

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