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Vladas JAKUBĖNAS (1904-1976)
String Quartet, Op.4 (1929-30) [25:29]
Two Pictures, Op.2, for piano (1926-27) [6:21]
Melody-Legend for violin and piano (1930-31) [6:32]
Serenade for cello and piano (1936) [10:10]
Prelude and Triple Fugue in D minor for string orchestra (1928-29) [16:40]
Vilnius String Quartet (Audronė Vainiūnaitė (first violin), Petras Kunca* (second violin), Girdutis Jakaitis (viola), Augustinas Vasiliauskas (cello)); Kasparas Uinskas (Pictures), Rusnė Mataitytė (violin, Melody-Legend), Edmundas Kulikauskas (cello, Serenade), Albina Šikšniūtė (piano), St Christopher Chamber Orchestra/Donatas Katkus
rec. Vilnius recording Studio, Vilnius, Lithuania, 12 February 1999 (string quartet), MAMA Studios, Lithuanian National Philharmonic Hall, 18 August, 2011 (Two Pictures), Studio Aurea, Lithuanian National Philharmonic Hall, 17 September, 2004 (Melody-Legend, Serenade), Lithuanian Radio, 30 September, 2004 (Prelude and Triple Fugue).
All first recordings. TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC 0013 [65:28]
Regular readers of my reviews will be used to me saying what a joy it is to make discoveries of both music and composers. Sometimes the two coincide as they do here for I had never heard of Jakubėnas before and I wonder how many others will have. The music will be new even to people who know of him since every work here is a first recording adding an extra frisson to the experience.
I presume that they are also first releases on CD despite the string quartet recording being 15 years old. The fact that it was completed in 1930 means it has waited 84 years to be presented to the wider public. The waiting is over at last and the music proves to be so good that it is regrettable that so many music-lovers from the past never had the chance of hearing it. That’s another thing I often find myself saying. Despite the fact that I know nothing of the folk music of Lithuania the folk-inspired elements at work here are obvious right from the first notes which leap straight in. Cast in a neo-classical style which earned him the nickname of ‘the Lithuanian Hindemith’ in Berlin, where he was studying with Franz Schrecker at the time of writing, it is full of lushly expansive, and glorious melodies. It was sad to read that a third movement was added but that its score has been lost.
His opus two, entitled Two Pictures, shows a prodigious pianistic talent at work for these are superbly emotive. Entitled ‘From the Land of Fairytales’ and ‘Legend’ they are delicious little gems that bring to mind the piano music of people like Scriabin and Medtner with shades of Debussy in the background.
Melody-Legend for violin and piano was written partly in his birthplace of Biržai and in Berlin and is a beautifully stated piece, again with echoes of folk music which is such a rich vein for so many composers.
Jakubėnas’s work for cello and piano, Serenade, or as it sometimes also known Rhapsody-Serenade, is another demonstration of his facility for gorgeous melodies with richness in the writing for cello that is positively intoxicating. This time the music is full of echoes of Spain with some overtly Hispanic dance rhythms and the piano often taking the role of accompanying guitar. It is both exciting as well as captivating and remains in the memory long after it has finished.
The Prelude and Triple Fugue in D minor, the score of which has only recently been found, dates from the late 1920s and again calls to mind that ‘Lithuanian Hindemith’ nickname. It is a real example of a Neoclassical work, here imaginative in concept and powerful in execution. Its rich string writing is full of passages that are thick with dense, sonorous and even majestic harmonies inflected with dark overtones. It certainly makes me want to explore his music further, especially his symphonies.
The Second World War interrupted his development as a composer and ending up in the USA he spent much of his time teaching and writing (1200 pages of his articles exist in a collection). This is a great loss after hearing what facility he had for the writing of such powerfully stated emotionally descriptive music.
It is fortunate that record companies such as Toccata exist that they are ready to make available music of real quality that we would very likely never get to hear otherwise. They deserve recognition for it as well as every success in their endeavours.
The playing by everyone here is uniformly excellent and among other things it has made me want to seek out anything played by the Kaskados Piano Trio, each member playing here though not as a trio.
When you hear music and playing of this calibre and note that Toccata offer discs of music by six more 20th century Lithuanians you realise how much this small country of barely three million people punches above its weight musically. This is a disc to savour. It will repay close listening with a richly rewarding experience.