KUTAVICIUS:  Last Pagan Rites (1978).  Epitaphium Temporum Pereunti (1998).
Choir of the Vilnius Ciurlionis Art School, Romas Grazinis, cond/Leopoldas Digrys, organ.  Kaunas State Choir/Lithuanian National Symphony Orch/Robertas Servenikas, cond.

ONDINE ODE 972 (F) (DDD) TT:  65:12

More from the dark side of the Baltic. Lithuanian composer Bronius Kutavicius wants to tap into the power of ritual, the stasis of chant. The means are sophisticated, and in that regard share many of the stratagems of the so-called Holy Minimalists: the complex ostinati, the slowing-down of time, the amount of time it takes for a musical process to complete. Last Pagan Rites gets a raw deal on CD, since much of its power comes from the changing positions of the musical forces around the audience. Kutavicius here sculpts sound in space. Without the ambience of the "surround," and settling for the ambience of mere stereo, the work lacks enough contrast to maintain interest. It's mainly harmonic clouds (mostly on a G 9-m. 7 chord) generated mainly by canon and, I believe, free chant. In stereo, it gets old very quickly. The meta-story concerns the fading of paganism in favor of Christianity, symbolized in the last movement by a choral played by the organ, which interrupts and weakens the chants. At that point, I don't particularly care. The difference between Kutavicius and the people he tries to evoke is that they didn't think about ritual. Ritual was life, whereas for Kutavicius it seems merely a good idea.

The more varied work is the later Epitaphium, a cantata on the city of Vilnius. The movements tell of the founding of the city, the city in its first glory, the fall of the city (and Lithuania itself) to the Russians, and the nation's rebirth, symbolized by the restoration of the city's cathedral. Contrasted to Last Pagan Rites, it's a work with more blood and vigor, less interested in dressing up as Druidic folk and more about talking about something that really matters to the composer. His love of country is something he doesn't have to think about: he simply has it, and recent events have stirred it. It's in many instances Kutavicius using the same devices, but to far more interesting effect. The choral ostinati evoke the natural world - wolves howling, crows cawing - as well as the spiritual one.

The sound is fine (with the caveat noted above about mere stereo for a work that needs not only left and right, but "depth of field"). The performances, while not polished to super-stardom sheen, are good enough.