November 2005

Barkauskas - Jeux; Partita; Two Monologues; Duo concertant
Philippe Graffin, violin; Nobuko Imai, viola; Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, Vilnius Festival Orchestra, Robertas Šervenikas cond.
Avie AV 2073
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, was home to the largest and most active Jewish community in Europe for centuries, though most of its Jews were lost in the Holocaust. That part of its heritage has been the focus of a remarkable level of attention: a large-scale Jewish Museum, identifying plaques on buildings, streets named for historic Jewish residents, and powerful works of music. On the site of the Jewish Museum is a bust of the Japanese World War II diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who saved as many as 10,000 lives by defying his own government’s orders in issuing visas that enabled desperate Jews to flee to safety ahead of the Nazis’ arrival.

Vytautas Barkauskas (born 1931) dedicated his Duo concertant to the memory of Sugihara and his wife Yukiko. It is not a preachy work or a lamentation, but music of subtlety, restraint (reflecting the Japanese character) and great originality. The second of its five movements cites the familiar Japanese "Cherry Blossoms" song (Sakura), and the entire work comes across as a gentle benediction, a meditation on the phenomenon of life-affirming kindness for its own sake.

Not that it is at all necessary to be aware of Sugihara’s benefactions to enjoy this beautifully wrought music composed for the two soloists, in this recording of the June 2004 premiere. The other work with orchestra, the seven-movement Jeux, was also taped live at its premiere in February 2003, with Philippe Graffin. The violinist’s performance of the much earlier unaccompanied Partita that made the composer’s name early on, is from the same event. The October 2004 Dutch studio recording of the Two Monologues composed for Nobuko Imai is another premiere, though not a public one.

Throughout these works, one is happily aware of a creative force that manages to be innovative within an accessible and attractive frame. The sound-world is an embracing one, the unlabored emotional content always rings true, and all the performances have the call of authority and commitment, as one expects from Robertas Šervenikas, the outstanding champion of new orchestral works in his country, and a conductor American audiences must get to know. The sound quality is lifelike and well balanced.