VYTAUTAS BACEVIĈIUS: Orchestral Works, Volume 1 = Piano Concerto No. 3; Piano Concerto No. 4 “Symphonie Concertante”; Spring Suite – Gabrielius Alekna, p./ Lithuanian Nat. Sym. Orch./ Christopher Lyndon-Gee – Naxos 8.573282, 68:36 (4/14/15) ***:

I have the highest respect to Naxos for its now decades-long commitment to finding and delivering lesser known classical works both of the present day and earlier and from virtually all points of the globe. The music and the performances are always of high quality and occasionally the music of a lesser known composer seems compelling to the extent that it begs for more prominence in the repertoire. For me, I am not sure these works by Lithuanian Vytautas Baceviĉius merits such.

The composer and pianist Baceviĉius was exiled from his homeland of Lithuania by the horrors of the Second World War and he eventually settled in New York City. Baceviĉius seemingly and strongly resisted assimilation into the American cultural scene and he ended up composing and living in a bit of self-imposed seclusion.

I also discovered, with much interest that he was born in Poland but retained the traditional Lithuanian spelling of his family name, Baceviĉius, unlike his more famous sister, composer Grazyna Bacewicz – whose music more people do know. As he never made any attempt to make allies in the strong New York music world, he was destined for near oblivion, as it were.

The music itself, as represented by these interesting works, is just that but fails to make a strong impact; at least on me. The Piano Concerto No. 3 has a bit of a jazz feel to it but with some complex chromaticism and a style that owes something to Gershwin, Scriabin; even Hindemith. It is a likable and playful work, on balance.

It seems like the fourth Piano Concerto, from 1962, is a different matter with stronger atonality and an orchestration that – similar to Bartok – is heavy on percussion and some percussive string section work. Actually, I found the middle Andante and Lento very moody and too short for what I felt it delivered. I liked this concerto a bit better than the preceding Third.

The Spring Suite, from 1958, has some pastoral touches but eventually moves into a rather ‘nationalistic’ verve that contained touches of Dohnanyi or maybe Martinu. Regardless, it is a pleasant enough work that entertains well for a fairly short span.

Pianist Gabrielius Alekna deserves some credit here for a job well done. I am no pianist but it seems like Baceviĉius – himself a pianist – wrote in a very demanding fashion for the soloist. The Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra directed by Christopher Lyndon-Gee also give fine, dedicated performances.

I enjoyed these works and any listener can tell what a talent Baceviĉius was. It may also be true, that, the nature of his lifestyle – one can only imagine what he and his family may have gone through – may have stifled his development as a composer. I would welcome the chance to hear subsequent volumes in this intriguing series. I think, perhaps, these works will remain a bit of a “curiosity”  There is truly a place for that, but further hearing of this composer’s music may make a stronger case.

—Daniel Coombs