Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Osvaldas BALAKAUSKAS (b. 1937)
Concerto Brio for violin and chamber orchestra (1999)
Concerto for Oboe, Harpsichord and Strings (1981)
Ludus Modorum for cello and chamber orchestra (1972)
Concertino for Piano and Strings (1966 rev. 1994)

St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra Vilnius conducted by Donatus Katkus
Rusné Mataityté violin, Romualdas Stašjus oboe, Sergejus Okruško harpsichord,
Edmundas Kulikauskas cello, Margrit Julia Zimmermann piano.
BIS BIS-CD-1058 [DDD 65:18]
Crotchet    Amazon UK    Amazon US

A graduate of Kiev Conservatory, Osvaldas Balakauskas is a little known name in this country although his works have been performed at a number of major European festivals including Krzysztof Penderecki's festival in Luslawice, Poland (a 1984 commission, Spengla-Ula for sixteen solo strings), Prague Spring Festival and closer to home, Huddersfield. He currently occupies the post of Head of Composition at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and interestingly held the post of Lithuanian Ambassador to France, Spain and Portugal from 1992 to 1994, a sign of the esteem in which he is held in his native country.

Unfortunately however there is little in the music on this disc that I find particularly memorable, or indeed original. The four concertos span a period of thirty three years and it is the earliest work, the 1966 Concertino for Piano and Strings from which I gained the most satisfaction, partly due to its concision and brevity and partly because its material comes across with a degree of freshness which the other three works do not possess. Balakauskas revised the work in 1994 although the booklet notes do not tell us the extent of the revision. The lively piano part is well written and performed, the overall impression being mildly jazz influenced, the harmony a little tougher and more sinewy than in the later works.

The next work chronologically, Ludus Modorum, for cello and chamber orchestra of 1972, is effectively a chamber concerto of a little under fifteen minutes in length. The booklet notes tell us that this is the only composition by Balakauskas that can be regarded as polystylistic, a dangerous word to use perhaps as it invites comparison with his close contemporary Alfred Schnittke. Schnittke's polystylism was a rare gift. The ability to take an old form and magically weave it into something that was uniquely his own and felt at once fresh and vital. Ludus Modorum, alternates passages of at times quite dense dissonance, recalling early Penderecki, with periods of melodic and harmonic relief. Unlike Schnittke the two opposites do not marry comfortably, the result being that the work does not form a satisfying whole.

Of the remaining two works, the Concerto for Oboe, Harpsichord and Strings of 1981, is unremarkable in its material but has an enjoyable third movement and an aria like slow movement prominently featuring the oboe and played, albeit rather woodenly in places, by the soloist, Romualdas Staškus. The most recent work, the Concerto Brio, for violin and chamber orchestra of 1999 is unable to sustain its twenty three minute length and I am afraid I found myself switching off after about ten minutes.

As you would expect from BIS, the quality of the recording is excellent, both vivid in sound and well balanced. The booklet notes however, give only the briefest synopsis of each work. Overall the music is of little more than fleeting interest and of the numerous composers to emerge from the former Soviet Union in recent years there are several, such as Giya Kancheli and Arvo Pärt, whose music has and will continue to create a far more lasting impact.

Christopher Thomas

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: - The UK's Biggest Video Store Musicians accessories
Click here to visit