Music by a neglected Lithuanian master

In Jurgis Karnavicius: String Quartets Nos. 3 & 4 the ONDINE (ODE 1387-2) recording of Jurgis Karnavicius (1884–1941) last two quartets many of us are introduced to and impressed by the creative depth of this pioneer of Lithuanian concert music.

Inhabiting a stylistic period anchored by the great 19th Russian tradition at one end and the innovative tendencies of the 1920’s at the other, Karnavicius forged his own artistic path, creating compositions that resolutely reject the dictates of atonality without fully embracing any particular school of musical thought. Instead Karnavicius pens music that is freely flowing, unabashedly rhapsodic, romantic in inspiration though not Romantic in sound or structure.

His Quartet number 3 is divided into three movements: an opening Andante that immediately engages the listener’s attention, an emotionally charged second movement, Allegro by name but laden with vagaries of sentiment, and a concluding Lento. This unusual construct defines Karnavicius as a sui generis master, one ready not to reinvent the musical wheel but to imprint his music with originality.

The fourth quartet of Karnavicius has a traditional Allegro/Andante/Allegro structure, although it again evidences a compositional gift for the unpredictable, with episodic movements flawlessly held together by the composer’s genius. Still tonal, ever impassioned, the composition affords the members of the Vilnius String Quartet excellent opportunities to prove their mettle as estimable musicians, impeccable of technique, utterly musical, elegant and disciplined.

Throughout the disc the superb Vilnius String Quartet plays as a devoted ensemble of artists, fully engaged in the act of bringing to life an unjustly neglected and to date unpublished composition by a long-dead compatriot, who returned to his native country after years of teaching and composing in isolation in a Leningrad, a city where any innovative music was regarded with suspicion.

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS