Vytautas MIŠKINIS (b.1954)
Time is Endless
Dum medium silentium (2008) [4:37]
O sacrum convivium [4:55]
Pater noster [5:17]
Tenebrae factae sunt [4:26]
Neišeik, saulala (Don’t leave me, sun) (2007) [6:16]
Seven ‘O’ Antiphons for Advent (1995-2003) [19:04]
Oi šala, šala (Oh, it’s getting cold) [7:57]
O magnum mysterium (2008) [6:14]
Ave Maria II [3:34]
Salve regina [5:18]
Ave Maria III [3:39]
Time is endless (2007) [6:32]
The Choir of Royal Holloway/Rupert Gough
rec. St Alban’s Church, Holborn, London, 7-9 January 2010. DDD
Original texts and English translations included
HYPERION CDA67818 [77:57]

Since the name of Vytautas Miškinis may be unfamiliar, a short introduction is probably in order. For this I draw on Rupert Gough’s informative booklet note. Miškinis is Lithuanian and was born in the country’s capital, Vilnius. Gough describes him as ‘the doyen of current Lithuanian choral culture.’ He’s been associated with a boys’ choir, Ažouliukas (’little oak tree’), for much of his life: he sang with it as a boy treble and has now been its artistic director for thirty years. Miškinis does not consider himself to be a strong religious believer but he has written many choral works to religious texts.

I think it’s also worth quoting a comment by Rupert Gough about this composer’s music. ‘Repetition permeates much of Miškinis’s music but he is not to be considered a minimalist. Vocal textures are certainly enhanced by a judicious use of carefully controlled aleatoric effects and ostinatos, however coloration of the text remains at the heart of Miškinis’s creative spirit.’ The programme that Gough has chosen for his excellent choir confirms this well-made point, I think.

Brian Wilson gave the download version of this album a warm welcome in December and I concur with his enthusiasm. All the pieces here are well worth hearing, especially when they are so well performed. The Royal Holloway choir has already impressed me with a disc devoted to music by Miškinis’s compatriot, Rihards Dubra (review), and they’re on equally fine form here.

There’s a good deal of imaginative writing in these works for unaccompanied voices. In Pater Noster, for example, Miškinis divides the voices into as many as ten or eleven parts and the complexity of the texture is, I think, a good metaphor for the universality of the Lord’s Prayer among Christians. In the very first piece on the programme, Dum medium silentium, we experience a multiplicity of overlapping choral figures, which device creates a genuine ambience. Tenebrae factae sunt is a setting of the Fifth Responsory for Good Friday. As Rupert Gough puts it ‘the piece begins and ends in a shroud of darkness weighed down with murky ambiguous chords.’

I was also impressed with Neišeik, saulala, one of the handful of secular pieces in the recital. Here, for the only time on the disc, instruments are used. But once again Miškinis is imaginative, for the instruments he deploys are skuduciai (Lithuanian panpipes) and their discreet sound is a most unusual and effective addition to the tonal palette. The pipes make a distinctive contribution to this haunting piece which features a fine, purely-voiced soprano solo by Gillian Franklin. Another secular offering is Oi šala, šala. I found this to be a remarkable and evocative piece, which the composer constructs from just a few thematic threads – something of a case of multum in parvo.

Miškinis is one of several composers who have been drawn to the Seven ‘O’ Antiphons, the short texts, one of which is heard as the antiphon to the Magnificat at Vespers on each of the days between 17 and 23 December. His pieces were composed between 1995 and 2003. All but one are for double choir and the two choirs are used most skilfully. I like these settings very much, especially the third one, ‘O Radix Jesse’, a lovely setting, the music for which is warm and gentle. The harmonic writing in these miniatures is evocative and falls pleasingly on the ear. Later in the programme comes O magnum mysterium. Like many composers before him, Miškinis has been inspired by this wonderful Christmas text to produce a rapt, awestruck setting. His music conveys a real sense of wonder and devotion and I think it’s one of the most memorable pieces on the programme.

Another very fine piece of choral writing is to be experienced in the last item in the recital, Time is endless. This is a setting of some wonderful words by Rabindranath Tagore.. Clearly the text resonates deeply with Miškinis for it has inspired him to produce a sustained, intense and very beautiful piece of music, which makes a lasting impression on the listener – or, at least, on this listener.

Vytautas Miškinis has been magnificently served by Rupert Gough and his choir in this recital. Gough obviously believes in the music – one can tell that from his notes – and he’s instilled that belief into his singers. Their performances are responsive and full of conviction and I couldn’t fault the singing, even if I wanted to. This is an expertly trained and very fine choir and they make the best possible case for this music. It helps that the recorded sound is excellent; the engineers have captured the sound of the choir most successfully and truthfully and there’s just the right amount of atmosphere and resonance around the voices.

Hyperion has a long and distinguished track record of issuing excellent discs of unfamiliar choral music. This latest offering is a distinguished addition to their list of achievements in this field.

John Quinn

Another Hyperion disc of unfamiliar but rewarding Baltic choral music, expertly performed