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Jurgis KARNAVIČIUS (1884-1941)
String Quartet No 1 (1913) [34:42]
String Quartet No 2 (1917) [41:37]
Vilnius String Quartet
rec. 25-28 May 2020, Lithuanian National Philharmonic
ONDINE ODE1351-2 [76:00]

The Lithuanian composer Jurgis Karnavičius was born in Kaunas and was the father of another musician Jurgis Karnavičius (1912-2001) who was in turn father of a further Jurgis. ‘Our’ Jurgis studied law in St. Petersburg but soon soughed away that intended career and took up music and the viola. He was appointed music professor at the then-named Leningrad Conservatory of Music. Prodigal son, he returned in 1927 and joined the teaching staff at the Kaunas Conservatory of Music. He was drawn to opera and wrote a folk-imbued opera called Grazina in 1933. There were to be ballets and other operas. His purely orchestral works included a Poe-inspired tone poem Ulalume (1917). Poe was his favourite writer. There’s another orchestral tone poem: The Oval Portrait (1927). His piano works included a Sonata and there were two other string quartets (1922, 1925) in addition to the ones heard here. His songs included settings of Fet, Balmont, Pushkin and Shelley; very much the setting territory of Medtner and Rachmaninov. The Lithuanian Music Centre have issued a CD of his orchestral and other instrumental music.

As will be evident from the timings, these string quartets are two epic and ambitious musical statements the first in four movements and the second, oddly enough the longest, in three. Written just before and during the First World War, they are intensely romantic and recalling Smetana but with a Northern and Russian ‘edge’. They are entertaining and the listener will find that time does not hang in this writing. The episodic progress of the second movement of the First Quartet flows without let or hindrance or shortness of wind. The third movement is wistfully soulful and the finale amiable and purposeful. Wistfulness is the order of the day for the first movement of the Second Quartet but this mood is delivered with pace rather than stolidity or stasis. Some of the writing especially in the second movement for me recalled the instrumental writing in George Butterworth’s glorious song-cycle Love Blows as the Wind Blows. The finale radiates a quiet¸ singing and nicely paced pride. The recording dazzles with clarity amid its umber tones.

The Quartet comprises Dalia Kuznecovaitė (violin I), Artūras Šilalė (violin II), Kristina Anusevičiūtė (viola) and Augustinas Vasiliauskas (cello). Their concert series have included seasons: “Music for String Quartet by Lithuanian Composers”, “Soirees of Romantic and Contemporary Lithuanian Music”, “Soirees of Chamber Music of Countries of European Union”, “Young Lithuanian talents and the Vilnius String Quartet”. On disc they have volumes dedicated to Mikalojus Čiurlionis, Vladas Jakubėnas and Jeronimas Kačinskas. They play with engagement; not at all detached and one senses a fervent belief in Karnavičius’ music that rears up to meet and reward the players’ confidence.

Rob Barnett

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