Saturday, January 12, 2008

13 January Memorial Concert

On 13 January 1991, at the TV tower in Karoliniskes, Vilnius, Russian tanks under the orders of that nice Mr Gorbachev, mowed down 13 Lithuanian men and one woman who were in a group peacefully defending the TV transmission system located in the tower. These events, televised throughout the world, led, eventually, to the break-up of the Soviet Union.

On January 12th every year since then, a concert by the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra has taken place in St John's Church in the University commemorating this event. The key piece is 'Sutartines' (it means something like 'little folk harmonies') by Schnittke, a 3 minute piece which he wrote in solidarity and memory of the events. It's an awesome piece, starting with a viola solo of a simple little melody, which the viola soloist and his front desk colleague play non stop throughout the piece, as the other instruments join in in an increasing noise, roar and gun noises, before dying away again, leaving the little melody carrying on before it dies away. It's a magnificent depiction of tanks rolling over fragile flowers. There is one violist in Lithuania, Petras Radzevicius, who plays this little melody to perfection, with the right amount of feeling, expression and child-like gay abandon - under all the noise. Sadly, he did not play tonight.

Some prat sitting near me started to applaud when the band came on stage at the start of the concert; this is the one occasion - a memorial concert - where you would not do that, until later in the concert. He was not well supported; I thought the leader of the orchestra gave a little scowl.

'Sutartines' was followed by the usual Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra programming. A strange little concerto grosso by Vivaldi; very early (RV 129), and overwhelming the audience who should then have applauded and did not; two elegaic pieces by Grieg (incredibly slushy and not played slushily enough), and then the Siauliai choir 'Polifonija' came on. Actually, it's not a bad choir - good at their pianos and enunciation.

Vaclovas Augustinas' (he's still alive and young) a capella piece (not on the programme) was a fairly traditional choral setting of something; could have been a weaker baroque piece had it not been for a bit of triteness in the men's voices. Algirdas Martinaitis, a respected Lithuanian composer, in his 50s, (brother Jurgis [?] is a poet), had written an Agnus Dei for mezzo, choir and orchestra. It was kind of neo-romantic (he also writes much more modern stuff), with I think a few gun noises thrown in [but difficult to tell in a public church where people wander in even during concerts]). This lamb of god was certainly carrying the sins of the world, but at various stages it also seemed to throw them off and gambol around the countryside, kicking its little legs in the air. Nicely sung by Ieva Prudnikovaite (who's changed her haircut to a heavy fringe - before, with all her hair long, she always had rather a noble brow), the choir and played by the orchestra.

Mozart's Ave Verum; what can you say - there was a moment when they choir could have been more legato; otherwise it was ok. Finally Schubert's Mass in G Major (written in a week in 1815); quite a classical piece, and also short. Apparently after Schubert's Death the mass was nicked by another composer, who ended up in prison for embezzlement. Here you wonder why you pay for soloists; their parts are so short, it's hardly worth them sitting on the stage and getting all nervous - could not the better choir members have done it? Probably not - there's a difference between even the best choir member and the professional soloist. The 3 soloists did well; Asta Kriksciunaite and Ignas Misiura are old hands at this game; I had not seen Rafailis Karpis (tenor) before; he had about 3 words ....

It was an ok concert; it served its purpose - you go more for the emotional moment than for the music. You'd never expect musical brilliance at this kind of concert. For that the orchestra needs a number of well-aimed kicks up their collective backsides.