The series of Christmas Week Concerts at the Filharmonija continued on Monday with the Concert by the Muzika Humana, the small chamber ensemble which more usually plays at the Lutheran Church on a Sunday evening (not every Sunday evening!). I have often commented on its conductor's style of conducting, his love of encores etc and will restrain myself this time.
The MH seems to have a new leader, Paulius Biveinis, whose career I have watched (from a distance) from when he had very long hair, very short hair, and now seems to have longer hair again. He used to be leader of the Music Academy's orchestra, played in the Chamber Orchestra, and now is in Muzika Humana (and maybe other orchestras as well since the MH is not full-time employment), but he's never quite hit the Big Time. Otherwise it was much the usual crowd apart from a young woman at the back of the first violins.
The programming was Bach and Corelli, starting with Corelli's Christmas Concerto. I always forget how long this is, with about 6 movements or so, and the 'famous bit' is about the fourth or fifth movement. Reliably played and all that.
Then we had some the first of a series of Bach; a couple of recitatives and arias for soprano (Raminta Vaiceskauskaite, an apparition in red) and bass (Ignas Misiura) from the Christmas Cantata. It was nice but a bit strange; only Ms Vaiceskauskaite was on stage first, doing her bit, very nicely, and then Mr Misiura strolled on, in an outfit that can only be described as a mixture between bell-hop and the hunter coming back from the hunt. A very short grey jacket, buttoned up to the neck, with one lapel hanging open, and a velvet collar and velvet pocket covers (or whatever you call those flaps above pockets). Mr Misiura is a very stylish man and appears to like following fashions, but I am not sure about the shortness of that jacket in a concert hall. How many female singers would you see in a mini-skirt whilst performing?
This was followed by Bach's first orchestral overture (hadn't we heard the first movement the day before?). I have to say I always find these boring, with all those stately dances and so on. I know the cello suites are much the same, also series of dances, but they seem to have more depth. This performance was solid and reliable, but did not set the heather alight.
After the interval we had the Bach concerto for violin and oboe, with Paulius Biveinis as the violin soloist and the inimitable Robertas Beinaris on oboe. A former trumpeter behind me muttered - this is not original. So I listened hard and thought that I had heard the first movement as an organ piece before, but Bach transcribed his own and other pieces, other people transcribed Bach's pieces ad nauseam - so who knows what was the original. Beinaris' performance was spirited, as always, Biveinis' might have been, had I been able to hear him. Not sure if it is his instrument, but his sound really does not cut across the orchestra - it sounded rather diffident. Technically it was sound but I would have liked more (audible) sparkle.
Finally we had the first movement of the Christmas Oratorio - at least something of it, it's so rare in Lithuania. The reason for the rarity may lie in the Soviet occupation; my trumpeter friend told me he performed it in 1976 in the Filharmonija - since under Soviet rules there was no god and no religion, the oratorio was performed in the spring, to quite clearly divorce it from any religious nonsense. Here the choir Jauna Muzika joined the band. What an apparition! It seems the JM has come into money - the ladies in individually tailored silk dresses according to their very different body shapes, with matching silk wraps or jackets (they often sing in chilly churches) in shades of brown and grey or grey-blue. What a change from the drab-looking church outfits!
Mindaugas Zimkus, tenor (normally dressed for a concert) and Jurga Prakelyte (alto, in a shoulder-less number in white with a black ribbon round the top) joined the others for this performance. Generally it was quite good, though the size of the choir overwhelmed the size of the orchestra. It also does not help when the reviewer knows every note and every word of this piece! Mr Zimkus really needs to work at his German pronounciation - it was pretty distant at times from where it should have been. There are textbooks for this. Overall there were notes missing, slightly sloppy entrances and exits, the timps did not quite sound as they should (I find this difficult to imagine, too, but they just were not quite right).... but at least it was the Christmas Oratorio! I suppose in Western Europe it is such routine that most performers can do it standing on their heads, which is obviously not the case in Eastern Europe.