Various Artists - Anthology of Lithuanian Art Music in the 21st Cent [Music Information Centre Lithuania - 2017]This two disk anthology of 21st century classical ('art') music is a state funded project by Music Information Centre Lithuania, which promotes Lithuanian music worldwide. Eastern Europe in general has a strong history of classical music, although there aren't many noted composers to come from Lithuania specifically.
Every track presented is composed by a different Lithuanian composer, and as such there is a large variety of styles on this recording. The only common thread between all the music here is instrumentation. Strings dominate nearly every piece of music, with appearances from other traditional orchestral instruments like harpsichord and winds. There is also a general tendency towards chamber music rather than large ensembles. The pieces presented are between 4 and 13 minutes in length.
The music ranges from utterly austere and pleasureless exercises in dissonance (opener "Triplum" by Tomas Kutavičius) to achingly expressive romantic tunefulness, in which every note is lovingly shaped to form a part of a larger emotional and tonal arc, with clever voice leading and harmonization (Loreta Narvilaitė's gorgeous "The Wave Accompanies the Birds Flight"). Rhythmic exercises like Justina Repečkaitė's "REM" have more to do with Schoenberg, Boulez and Feldman than any pre-20th century music, where Jurgita Mieželytė's "Triglyph" seems to pay homage to each different era in its different aspects, with its distinctively Baroque harpsichord accompaniment and weeping Romantic lead melody.
It doesn't feel like the tracks have been sequenced into any particular listening order, as often the style of one piece does not feed into the next in any discernable way. After all, they put the ugliest and most incomprehensible piece at the start of the album, and it is 9 minutes long. As such, there is 'something for everyone', yet few listeners would be likely to make it through the album as a whole. It would seem the music is best understood when each piece is considered as a stand alone work, and ample time is given to recover the attention from fatigue and distraction between listenings.
The music does certainly show its modernity with its complete eschewing of traditional structural ideas of 'theme' and 'development'. Each piece here is so dense with notes, so non-repetitive in its nature, that I could hardly pick any sequence of notes to call a 'theme', or easily discern their reprisal. Even when they are tuneful, these are highly 'progressive' compositions, with heavy use of complex rhythms and disorienting time signatures. The experience of hearing this album is that of being bombarded rapidfire with a diverse plethora of tightly compressed ideas, each several minute stretch representative of countless hours of work.
The production feels a bit dry and muted, as if the musicians were captured in a room without proper natural resonance to give these instruments the luminous, smooth quality they achieve in cathedrals and large halls. There is a harshness to the treble range that prevents listening at louder volumes. The rough hewn sound detracts from the immediacy of these pieces, in my opinion, but isn't bad enough that any of the content is truly obscured.
Regardless of my inability to enjoy some of the individual pieces, this anthology contains such a massive volume of effort and creativity that it can hardly be faulted. Undoubtedly, it is filled with inspiration and brain food for anybody involved in classical music themselves, each piece filled with subtle technicalities and studied intelligence. There is so much depth and content that the album feels entirely new each time it is played. The only criticisms I could feel justified in making are in the realms of production quality and track ordering. A slight improvement in this areas could have rendered this album more accessible and coherent.Josh Landry