BACEVIČIUS The Complete Mots
Toccata Classics TOCC0134
The opening-up of music
from the Baltic countries over
the past two decades has led to notable rediscoveries.
A previous disc of music by
Vytautas Bacevičius (1905-70)
issued by Toccata Classics left a predominantly equivocal impression, but this follow-up proves more consistently absorbing. It brings together the seven Mots (‘Words’), five of which here receive their first recording, written over a 33-year period and giving an overview of the creative development of a composer whose initial success in his native Lithuania was cut short by war then never re-established after he had settled in the USA.
The Premier mot (1933) is a distinctive fusing of elements from
later Scriabin with the combative manner of Russian futurism, its interplay between multi-section and single-movement designs
enabling momentum however free the tonal trajectory. Composed for organ, the Deuxième mot (1934) is the longest of the series – its cumulative initial section yielding motifs which sustain the diverse timbral and textural contrasts to come, climaxing in music whose impetus sees a heightened return of the opening.
The Troisième mot (1935) is a tensile sonatina whose toccata-like outer sections frame a slower (but not calmer) section, the whole recalling the more expressively oblique piano pieces of Prokofiev, while the Quatrième mot (1938) elides more subtly between its several sections in music that touches on tonal centres without adhering to a tonal framework or overt atonality.
By the time of the Cinquième mot (1956), Bacevičius was heading into
a final creative phase, its initial motifs being constantly developed as the piece instils its several sections with a scintillating pianism. By contrast, the Sixième mot (1963) is relatively diffuse for all its formal and expressive contrasts, the uncompromising idiom lacking either
the systematic poise of Milton Babbitt or the capricious intuition of Stefan Wolpe from this period.
Perhaps because it utilizes two pianos and comprises three distinct movements, the Septième mot (1966) is more convincing – the questing initial Allegro proceeded by a contemplative Larghetto then an incisive final Allegro in music whose perfect synthesis between rigor and fantasy denotes a belated mastery.
Impractical as a concert proposition, the cycle is ideally
accommodated on disc – not least when Gabrielius Alekna is so alive
to the music’s forging of an idiom which, if less innovative or personal than its composer might have intended, is rarely less than engaging on its own terms. The ever-reliable Ursula Oppens joins him in the final piece, while Matthew Lewis makes the most of some imaginative contrasts of register in the organ work.
Clear though never clinical sound and extensive notes from
Malcolm MacDonald enhance a disc that defines the restless, sometimes unfocussed but always absorbing persona of Bacevičius in
a positive light.