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Mikalojus ČIURLIONIS (1875-1911) The Sea, symphonic poem (1903-07, reconstr. original version) [32:24] In the Forest, symphonic poem (1900-01, reconstr. original version)  Kęstutis, symphonic overture (1902, orch. Jurgis Juozapaitis, 2000) [9:33]
Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra/Modestas Pitrėnas
rec. 2019, Lithuanian National Culture Centre Recording Studio, Vilnius ONDINE ODE1344-2 [59:15]
The noteworthy thing about this release is that it presents the world premiere recording of the symphonic overture Kęstutis in the 2000 orchestration of Jurgis Juozapaitis, as well as reconstructions of the tone poems In the Forest and The Sea.
The incomplete nature of a number of his scores, and the destruction wrought by two world wars, allied to Čiurlionis’ early death at the age of 35, has always meant that his intact surviving work list is small. The overture Kęstutis exemplifies the problem. It was composed in 1902 but only a piano score exists along with the orchestrated score’s title page which handily included the full orchestration. It’s thus that Juozapaitis was able to orchestrate the work – there were a few missing piano passages as well - in time for the score’s centenary. It was first performed in 2000. It’s known from one of his letters that Čiurlionis managed to include ‘only two Lithuanian fragments’ into a work that he was keen for his teacher Carl Reinecke to hear. Its energy quotient is certainly high but more successful still is the very beautiful melodic writing and its powerful atmosphere.
We can never know quite how the composer’s orchestration would sound but the problem with the tone poems is the exact nature of their form. In the Forest was first performed the year after the composer’s death. The opening is redolent of soft Lithuanian pines and there’s plenty of vivid lovely wind writing in this nature depiction. There’s also declamatory Straussian exuberance which is not wholly integrated – I was reminded of Ein Heldenleben, most especially, at points – though the work’s beautiful, calm epilogue comes as welcome balm.
Much the longest work is The Sea, composed between 1903 and 1907 and also heard in a reconstruction of the original version. It generates a full oceanic splendour, full of Nationalist fervour as well as admitting ruminative panels. In the main though this sea is both confident and surging, even exuberant in its extroversion. If it can also seem somewhat bombastic and prolix, overstuffed with Straussian late-Romanticism, then perhaps that is not as concerning as its occasionally structurally episodic nature. It’s not a particularly self-disciplined work but, in compensation, it has lashings of colour, sea spume, incident and orchestral richness.
Its first performance came in 1936 in the performing edition of Vytatas Bacevičius and three decades later Eduardas Balsys changed the orchestration and cut 46 bars from the work’s climax. This subsequently became the published version of the score. Therefore the present recording has restored the composer’s original intentions meaning it’s longer than competing versions by several minutes. The Marco Polo recording of The Sea and In the Forest with the Slovak Philharmonic under Juozas Domarkas (8.223323) dates from 1990 and Svetlanov’s The Sea is also well before reconstruction (Svetlanov Edition SV SEA005). This Ondine disc, excellently recorded and performed – though with a booklet that needs tweaking here and there to make it fully idiomatic in English - is currently the most authentic representation of these works on disc.