Unusual and beautiful: Mirga Graûinyt?-Tyla conducts the music of Raminta äerkönyt?

In the four years since her appointment as Chief Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was announced, Graûinyt?-Tyla has established a significant presence. She understands the long standing CBSO ethos of adventurous programming. While many conductors would play safe with recordings of easily marketable repertoire, Graûinyt?-Tyla chooses repertoire which stretches boundaries. In 2018, she led the CBSO in an in-depth immersion into the music of Mieczys?aw Weinberg, which resulted in one of the finest ever recordings of Weinberg’s Symphony no 21, the “Kaddish” with Weinberg specialist Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica. Please read my review of that here.

In this new recording, she presents the Lithuanian composer Raminta äerkönyt?. Though this recording may not have immediate mass market appeal, it is so unusual, so beautiful and so moving that it could, long term, prove to be a milestone in bringing the riches of Lithuanian and Baltic music to a wider audience.

The music of the Baltic region evolves from ancient traditions absorbed into the culture of the early Christian era, encouraging vocal and communal music-making. When Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania were incorporated into the Soviet Union, regional identities were suppressed, and music became a covert force against the regime. It’s notable how music with a spiritual element survived repression: Ustvolskaya and Giubaldina, Arvo P‰rt and Veljo Tormis, Osvaldus Balaskauskas, P?teris Vasks, Lutos?awski, Miloslav Kabel·? and many others. Hence the Singing Revolution of 1987 and mass non-violent protest which ultimately led to independence. This spiritual element also connects to a sense of communion with nature and the environment. The bonus DVD that comes with this recording, includes a performance conducted by Graûinyt?-Tyla of works by Bronius Kutavi?ius (b. 1932) inspired by ancient polytheistic belief and music in what is now Lithuania. Definitely worth listening to, as it sets context for the music of Raminta äerkönyt?. Indeed, the whole video is worth watching for its insights into Graûinyt?-Tyla’s values and background.

“I want my music to compose a symphony from the roaring of waves, from the mysterious language of hundred-year woods, from the twinkling of stars, from our folksongs and from my boundless longing” wrote Mikalojus ?iurlionis (1875-1911) the Lithuanian composer, poet and painter. äerkönyt?’s Midsummer Song (2009) addresses the summer solstice, the longest day and shortest night in the calendar, which has ritual significance in many cultures, as it marks the passage of seasons and of time itself. Thus the “gossamer melodies alternating between major and minor, evolving step by step into a wealth of colours and forms”, as Verena Mogel notes, “…. a multi-layered, finely structured fabric in which the overlapping and contrasting layers of strings never lose their coherence…. a consistent, dramatic arch unfolds from beginning to end, a constant alternation of tension and relaxation, the singing of isolated voices and dense textures”. The effect is mystical, as if the music were tapping into some deep source of earth-magic. Brief figures might represent specifics, like birds, or wind, but this is an inner landscape of the soul: much deeper than tone poem. Listening to this can clean away the superficial clutter of noise that surrounds us. For me, it is an immensely rewarding and uplifting experience.

äerkönyt?’s De profundis (1989) takes its cue not so much from Psalm 130 but from the storms and turbulence of youth, perhaps a necessary rite of passage before the coming of wisdom. Hence the shifting tensions, formed by “fretful, 18 note motifs interspersed with rests which hover above downward spiralling glissandi in contrast with almost motionless chord progressions in which dissonances resolve again and again into harmonic clarity”. This was the piece which earned äerkönyt? her bachelor’s degree, but it is by no means a “student” work.

Based on the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, äerkönyt?’s Songs of Love and Death (2007) is structured along the lines of an Indian raga, evoking emotional states of mind as much as the themes of day, evening, night and dawn in the text. In the first movement, “Diena, Vakararas” (day, evening) textures hover creating an impressionistic palette of delicate colour, highlighted by exotic-sounding percussion and woodwinds. A free-flowing sense of calm prevails, from which the soloists’ voices arise, their lines like incantation, gradually building up to form a chorale as intricate as tracery. In “Naktis” (Night) a solo violin sings, elaborating on the themes of the previous movement. The choir picks up the themes, their lines hushed, undulating and diffuse, providing a backdrop to the two pairs of soloists (Lina Dambrauskait?, Justina Gringyte, Tomas Pavilionis and Nerijus Masevi?ius) who sing of love and longing. The brief orchestral interlude marks a transition. The woodwinds create fluttering bird-like figures, which illustrate the references in the text to a dawn chorus followed by the sudden flight of birds. “Rytus. Amzinasis rytas (Morning. Eternal morning) marks not just a new day but a leap into an altogether new level of transcendence. The soloists sing, united in ensemble and as individuals interacting, the choir intoning behind them. As the emotional flight takes off, the voices gradually recede into space, the orchestra returning to reverent serenity. GiedrÈ Slekyt? conducts the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra and the Vilnius Municipal Choir (Jauna Muzika).

Anne Ozorio

image_description=Deutsche Grammophon 0289 483 7761 9
product_title=Mirga Graûinyt?-Tyla: Works by Raminta äerkönyt?
product_by=Kremerata Baltica, Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla. Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, Giedre Slekyte.
product_id=Deutsche Grammophon 0289 483 7761 9 [CD & DVD]