Vytautas Bacevicius – A welcome rediscovery

Lithuanian composer and pianist Vytautas Bacevicius lived and worked mostly out of the spotlight. Exiled from his homeland by the Second World War, he eventually settled in New York City. Bacevicius resisted assimulation into American culture, however.

Though born in Poland, he preferred to celebrate his Lithuanian heritage, even changing his name to its Lithuanian spelling (unlike his more famous sister, composer Grazyna Bacewicz, who kept the Polish spelling). He never engaged with the New York music scene, and he never returned to Lithuania, thus cutting himself off from his largest potential audiences.

Although obscure by choice, Bacevicius’ music is well-crafted and deserves a hearing. Bacevivius developed his own version of atonality that, at least in these works, sounds more like post-tonality to me.

The 1946 Piano Concerto No. 3 has some very distinctive jazz elements. Some sections to my ears sounded like a highly chromatic version of Gershwin, perhaps crossed with Hindemith.

Completed in 1967, the fourth piano concerto is less tonal, and decidedly more original than the third. Bacevivius is an original and imaginative orchestrater, especially when it comes to percussion.

The 1958 Spring Suite serves as an effective bridge between the two concertos. It opens in a light, gauzy manner that reminded me of Martinu. As it progressed, its disjointed melodies seemed similar in style to late works by Shostakovitch.

Pianist Gabrielius Alekna does a tremendous job. Bacevivius demands a lot from the soloist, and Alekna delivers. The Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra directed by Christopher Lyndon-Gee also perform credibly, though in some spots the recorded ensemble seemed a little lacking in detail. Those are minor quibbles, though.

I was glad to see this release labeled “Volume 1.” Bacevicius was indeed an original composer, and his music merits further exposure.

Vytautas Bacevicius: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1
Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 44; Piano concerto No. 4 “Symphonie concertante”  Op. 67; Spring Suite, Op. 64
Gabrielius Alekna, piano; Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra; Christopher Lydon-Gee
Naxos 8.573282

 

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