Kutavicius (The) Bear
Bronius Kutavicius (b1932) is one of the leading composers in Lithuania, but where the likes of the Estonian Arvo Pärt and Peteris Vasks in Latvia have come to international prominence, Kutavi?ius has remained largely undiscovered. He has written music in a wide variety of genres, from oratorio cycles to string quartets to songs and motets. As Ruta Gostautiené points out in her accompanying note, a strong theatrical element runs like a skein through his output, yet Lokys (‘The Bear’), written for the 2000 Vilnius Festival, was his first full-scale work for the National Company.
For this major commission, Kutavicius turned to a supernatural tale of Prosper Mérimée (the libretto was written by Austra Marija Sluckaité) concerning a cursed noble house. A professor visits the court of Count Semeta, son of an old friend. There he finds the Count preparing for his imminent wedding, and the Dowager Countess suffering from a permanent mental illness as the result of being attacked by a bear shortly after her wedding, decades before. A series of bizarre, indeed surreal, episodes and characters beset the professor as he wanders through this aristocratic world while events move inexorably to the final (double) tragedy.
The bedrock of Kutavicius’s eclectic musical style is Nordic New Simplicity, though it only rarely comes to the surface, centre stage front, as in Act 1, scenes 7 and 10, and towards the end of Act 2, often seemingly fused with 20th-century neo-classicism reminiscent of Martinu or Stravinsky. There is symphonic cohesion, too, and during the wedding festivities of Act 2, Kutavicius shows an adept hand at pastiche and multi-layered musical tapestries. A folk element is drafted in, especially around the character of the One-Eyed Old Woman, though its influence can be heard more subtly in many of the vocal lines which betray a double lyric inheritance from Poland (often in the soprano lines) and Russia (particularly in the bass part of the Professor).
The performance is a strong one, Vladimiras Prudnikovas and Vytautas Juozapaitis dominant as Professor and Count respectively, while Inesa Linaburgyté relishes her mad scenes as the old Countess. The sound quality is excellent, though the aural perspective seems a touch two-dimensional at times.