Eduardas Balsys – the Voice of Lithuania

Eduardas Balsys was a major musical figure in postwar Lithuania. He was one of the country’s foremost composers, Balsys was also an important educator.

He was head of the composition department a the Conservatory of the Lithuanian SSR. As such, he shaped the next generation of Lithuanian composers.

Balsys’ own style was shaped by politics. This release presents three works tracing his development over three decades.

When Balsys graduated from the Leningrad Conservatory, Lithuania was in the USSR. Soviet rules required classical music to be accessible. Lithuanian authorities wanted to keep their cultural identity. So the music had to also be “folkloric.”

Balsys’ 1954 Violin Concerto No. 1 manages to do both. And sound like a coherent work as well. The rules seem to do little more than provide a framework for his fertile imagination.

Balsys was also a gifted orchestrator. The innovative instrumental combinations he uses in this concerto make it sound fresh. And take it beyond the bounds of the state mandates.

By the mid 1960s the rules had relaxed. As one can hear in The Dramatic Frescoes for violin, piano, and orchestra (1965). Balsys explores some formerly forbidden techniques in this piece.

Some of it sounds dodecophonic, and other parts tonal a la Hindemith. He also mixes in popular forms of dance music. The liner notes call Balsys a “moderate modernist.” And that’s an apt description of The Dramatic Frescoes.

The Reflections of the Sea (1951) was composed three years before Balsys’ death. There were no longer state regulations on composition. This is definitely the most dissonant of the works recorded here.

But it’s still a tonal work. Sections reminded me of late Shostakovich. Other parts, though, sounded like nobody else. Balsys had an original voice. And this time it was unchecked.

The Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra directed by Modestas Pitrenans does this music credit. The ensemble sound is rich and full — and precise.

Violinist Dzeraldas Bidva delivers an exceptional performance of the violin concerto. His tone has a pure, lyrical quality to it that adds to the beauty of the music.

I had never heard of Eduardas Balsys before auditioning this release. I very much want to hear more. A lot more.

Eduardas Balsys: Violin Concerto No. 1
Dramatic Frescoes; Reflections of the Sea
Dzeraldas Bidva, violin; Indre Baikstyte, piano
Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra; Modestas Pitrenas, conductor
Ondine 1358

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