Classical Lost and Found
, February 2008
With this disc we are again indebted to Naxos for introducing us to the music of another little known composer. This time it's Lithuanian Feliksas Bajoras (b. 1934), who started out writing popular songs just after his graduation from the Lithuanian State Conservatory, and then turned to serious music in the 1960s. It's lucky for us that he did, judging from the four highly imaginative pieces for string orchestra featured here.
The second symphony subtitled "Stalactites" (1970) is a series of nine brief, connected musical impressions of a trip Bajoras took to Czechoslovakia. Dodecaphonic and aleatoric elements are present, but this is basically a tonal piece with some of most creative string writing one could ever hope for. This travelogue includes musical snapshots of such diverse scenes as the Tatra Mountains, old Czech castles and fortresses (including Vysehrad, which Smetana immortalized in his cycle of symphonic poems, Ma Vlast), as well as Prague. It concludes with a stunning virtuosic impression of Russian tanks violating the streets of that beautiful city during the 1968 Czech rebellion.
Suite of Verbs (1966) and Prelude and Toccata (1967) are early works with twelve-tone connections. But they’re quite listener-friendly, and nowhere as severe as what Schoenberg and Webern came up with. Both pieces give the orchestra a real workout and there are folk influences, which is not surprising considering the important role this music plays in Lithuanian culture. Suite… is seven musical characterizations of verbs as diverse as thinking, raging, suffering, and dancing. Prelude… contrasts a pensive prelude with a hyperactive toccata where you can almost smell burning horse hair!
Zenklas (1996), or The Sign, adds voice and percussion to the string orchestra. It honors the memory of poet Mindaugas Tomonis who, during the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, fell afoul of the KGB and died rather mysteriously shortly thereafter. It's a moving, emotionally-charged piece and yes, that's a police whistle near the beginning [track-19, at 04:41], which probably symbolizes Tomonis' arrest by the Soviets. About halfway through, subtle percussive elements intensify the feeling of reverence this music evokes from the listener. Towards the end, a soprano enters, singing one of Tomonis' poems. From a composer with something really new and different to say, this is one of the most affecting neo-romantic string works to appear in a long time.
There’s an innocence about Soprano Nora Petrocenko’s voice that’s perfectly suited to Zenklas, and may trigger memories of Henryk Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (No. 3, 1976). The Saint Christopher Chamber Orchestra under Donatas Katkus is a class act and performs everything here to perfection.
The recorded sound is very good except for a couple of places where the strings are a little on the edgy side. A radiant soundstage emphasizes the dramatic dynamism of Bajoras' music.