19 December 2015

Justina Repeckaite: Toro

My choice of composer is built on two reasons, firstly it is always a novelty for me to see contemporary composers writing for my first musical instrument, the euphonium; secondly she is a composer I have admired her work for as long as I have known about her.
Justina Repeckaite (1989*) is a Paris based composer, who initially studied in under the guidance of Osvaldas Balakauskas and Ricardas Kabelis while she was studying in Lithuania. While in Paris she has studied with Jean-luc Herve and worked with many leading ensembles like Ensemble 2e2m and Ensemble Cours-Circuit. A meticulous composer, every single one of Justina's pieces is carefully considered and expertly crafted. In the profile I wrote about her for the Lithuanian music information centre, I made the comparison between her and a diamond which annoyingly now writing this blog post, I cannot find a way to top it. There is not much point in trying to compete with myself or rewrite myself.

The piece in question I wanted to show this week is Justina's work Toro (2015) for euphonium and electronics. the work was written for and dedicated to Vianney Desplantes a wonderful French euphonium player, who really brings so much out of such a beautiful instrument. Toro almost quite simply gets the most animalistic sounds out of the instrument, through percussive colours, multiphonics, and other extended techniques; and then further warps them with the electronics. The result is an extremely primal ritual. 

Despite the raw sounds and disjunctive shifts from gesture to gesture, the result is oddly hypnotic. The gradual build of energy in the centre of the piece is just fantastic; its almost like a whole new creature has been born out of this piece. Hopefully other euphonium players will see this piece and just realise how much more there is to their instrument, so they can finally put things like the Carnival of Venice to sleep. Anyway back to my point, the structure of the piece is handled so beautifully and the energy and musicality always well restrained; its almost like Justina knows the story of the ten bulls, this bull despite still being a wild animal, is well controlled and brings a new musicality to an instrument that has needed this input for a severely long time.

The recording of the piece can be heard here and people who want to discover more about Justina Repeckaite really should check out her website here. I am intrigued where she could take this instrument, and as always very intrigued to see where her music takes her next.

13 December 2015

Bronius Kutavicius: String Quartet No. 1

As mentioned in my last post, I had gone on a bit of a bender in a local music shop where I had managed to buy four scores by Lithuanian composers for around 10 euros. I had discussed Stasys Vainiunas's second piano concerto. This week I am returning to the Lithuanian giant Bronius Kutavicius. In this previous article I discuss Kutavicius's background as well as the phenomenal Gates of Jerusalem. In the aforementioned music shop, I had managed to grab myself a copy of Kutavicius's first string quartet.

The work is an intriguing curiosity for many reasons, firstly it was written in 1971 and it is an intriguing period of Kutavicius's music, as it is still searching for 'identity'. The piece is in three movements simply called: Con Sordino, Pizzicato, and Arco. The three movements in their Feldman-like no-nonsense naming do exactly what the titles say. This mentality would have been a welcome relief for many composers of this time, as it opened the door to more extreme forms of experimentalism, detaching themselves from the romantically obsessed older generations; as well as being able to not go out of the confines of Soviet decreed social realism.

Musically the piece is more akin to early Gorecki or Penderecki, which is of no real surprise due to how important the Warsaw festival was to composers in the iron curtain. The chaotic flourishes, combined with aleatoric devices make the piece truly wild, a far distance from the hypnotic repetitions often associated with the giant.

The first movement, Con Sordino, is almost in a free sonata form, with the two main contrasting materials: the extremely quiet running lines, and the chorale-like texture. The harmonic emphasis of the work is on a tetrachord of A, Bb, B, and C, four tones each a semitone apart. This symmetrical harmony is a definitive sign Kutavicius was incorporating serialism, a form of music that is often seen as a dirty word even now. 

The second movement, Pizzicato, starts with a canonic material incorporating glissandi and many other variations of pizzicato. Then we hear a 8 voiced chorale which leads to an almost recitative like line from the first violin who is interjected by the rest of the ensemble. The centre of the movement is extremely dense, but oddly quiet, as the pluck single notes, but also continue tapping the string. This produces a very dense but quiet rustling from the ensemble. This suddenly breaks into a manic firework of fortissimo plucks which slowly die away into a final hearing of a melody being passed around the ensemble, before the final cadential chord.

The final movement is oddly more traditional, this maybe due to the fact, arco is the basic premise of the instruments. The opening pulses combined with later tremolandi and harmonics, make the movement the most energetic and colourful . The finale of the movement harks back to the dense circling melody we initially heard in the opening movement before coming to a final close on a B. 

Below is a wonderful recording of the work by the Vilnius String Quartet. The piece is an interesting work, but by no means one of Kutavicius's highlights. This is not to degrade the piece in anyway, but Bronius Kutavicius's greatest moments have been his oratorios. Works like Gates of Jerusalem or Last Pagan Rites, are truly astounding. This quartet is a very well crafted work, and a wonderful edition for the ensembles historical canon, but Kutavicius's greatest moments leave this in the dark. This being said, it has been wonderful to delve deeply into this score as it really shapes and give a lot of context to both the life and work of Kutavicius, but also opens up how composers attempted to deal with the situation they were put in during the Soviet Union. 

Until next time, I wonder what gem I'll discuss.

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.