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Rytis MAŽULIS (b. 1961)
Canon solus (1998) [5:20]
Sybilla (1996) [6:59]
Cum essem parvulus (2001) [8:39]
Ajapajapam (2002)a [35:49]
Latvian Radio Chamber Choir; Chordos Quarteta; Kaspar Putniņş
Recorded: Studio 1, Latvian Radio, December 2003
MEGADISC MDC 7810 [56:48]

Rytis Mažulis, now in his early forties, was a pupil of Kutavičius and Juzeliūnas. Kutavičius was a choir director for many years, and a good deal of his output is vocal. It may thus not be surprising that Mažulis, too, seems to be writing quite a number of vocal works, as this recent release demonstrates. Mažulis admits real admiration for composers as diverse as Josquin des Prčs, Scelsi, Nancarrow and Horatiu Radulescu, and his music as heard here tends to confirm the impact of such seemingly disparate influences, although he might have added other names, such as Ligeti.

One of the earliest works here is Canon solus, written for the Hilliard Ensemble. The piece is a canon "in any tone" modelled, for example, on Ockeghem’s Mass Cuijusvis toni. It is a good example of working methods consistently used by Mažulis in later works, such as Minimalism, development of mensural canon and echoes of spectral music. Sybilla, on words by Petronius, carries the technique of perpetual canon one step further, adding considerable tension between the voices in play. Variety is achieved by alternating use of voices (men only, women only or tutti).

The very title of Cum essem parvulus (“When I was a child”) implies some private joke, in that ‘mažulis’ means ‘little child’ (i.e. ‘parvulus’ in Latin). The piece is again structured as a spiralling canon, resulting in a sort of tintinabulli maybe inherited from Kutavičius - as in his more overtly ritualistic works such as Last pagan Rites or From the Jatvingian Stone - rather than from Pärt, although the origin of both lies in Baltic runo.

The most recent work is the imposing ajapajapam for chorus, string quartet and electronics. It is also his most radical one so far, and one in which Mažulis’ own brand of Minimalism is pared down close to the extreme. The present annotator describes the piece as a "slowly slipping cluster", in which microscopic dynamic shifts create tiny variation in the long-drawn lines of what is essentially a static piece. The basic material is reduced to a bare minimum, i.e. a few isolated long-held notes resulting in a long slowly shifting cluster with tiny, but often telling variations. The global impact is not unlike what Ligeti achieved in, say, Lux aeterna. String quartet and electronics are fully absorbed into the vocal textures, so that they are hardly noticed, but the music would very different without them. The impact is either hypnotic or irritating, depending on one’s frame of mind; but its power to move or disturb is beyond doubt. The question is whether the composer has not reached some dead end with music such as this. It will be most interesting to know how or whether he will develop after this.

Mažulis’s music, as heard here, is ritualistic in its own way. It displays a keen ear for beguiling textures and a considerably imaginative ability to build on the age-old canon form.

The present performances, recorded in the presence of the composer, can hardly be bettered and we may assume that they sound as he intends. The Latvian Radio Chamber Choir is a crack ensemble that sings beautifully throughout and bravely manage some rather tricky music with impeccable intonation and remarkable assurance. I wonder how they manage to do so, particularly in the awfully taxing ajapajapam ... but they do.

Not easy stuff, quite unlike anything else I have been able to listen to up to now: thought-provoking or overtly provocative, but well worth trying. Mažulis’s music inhabits a world entirely of its own.

Hubert Culot


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