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Bronius KUTAVIČIUS (b.1932)
The Seasons (2005-08) [78:02]
Darius Meškauskas (reader)
Vilnius Municipal Choir Jauna Muzika and St Christopher Chamber Orchestra/Donatas Katkus
rec. 13 September 2012, live, at the first complete performance in St Catherine’s Church, Vilnius
Full texts and English translations
TOCCATA TOCC0200 [78:02]

Bronius Kutavičius is one of Lithuania’s leading composers, a mesmerist who enfolds his audiences and listeners in trance-like music embedded in structures redolent of Pagan ritual. His embracing of minimalism sounds to have been conducted very much on his own terms – though he is considered ‘the father of Lithuanian minimalism’ – and as suggested in his note by Linas Paulauskis, much of The Seasons sounds rooted in patterns as much reminiscent of a kind of looped folklore. If indeed Kutavičius is on a mission of cultural archaeology, how does that help to explain this nearly 80-minute oratorio, heard here in its first complete performance in Vilnius in September 2012?

Maybe it suggests that his immersion in the folk music of his country is put to use in patterns that whilst repetitious are never sonically static. There is constant accretion of colour and timbre, strong and striking intensifications that elevate the monotonous stretches into a kind of bardic celebration. The music glowers, the brass woozes, long passages sound sun-drunk on Pantheism. The Seasons is scored for speaker, chorus and orchestra, the text being taken and freely adapted from a poem by Kristijonas Donelaitis (born 1714). There is much in the booklet from which to learn concerning the literary and musical elements of the work and no praise can be too high for these features, as well as for the interview between the composer and Toccata’s Martin Anderson. In the end, and however enriched by such reading, the listener must be guided by his ears.

If monotony and accretion of sound colour sound potentially contradictory, they are not necessarily so here. A work with a large role for narrator – in truth so theatrically declaimed that he becomes almost shamanistic – and for chorus and chamber orchestra needs to justify this long span of time. There are moments, such as in the third movement called Autumn Wealth, where the music makes a more direct appeal through the predominance of lighter voices, and incantatory clapping. Similarly in Winter Cares the chorus is encouraged to make a defter, lighter-bodied contribution. Thinking about the stylistic boundaries of a work such as this I can only come up with Stravinsky on one side and Orff – in less belligerent mode – on the other.

Immersion in the rite demands qualities that may be beyond even the natural adherent. Its minimalistic bases are powerfully rooted in specifically Lithuanian elements. It’s not necessary to know Lithuanian folklore or to apprehend the agrarian realities of eighteenth-century life to appreciate the textual ramifications of the oratorio. It does involve, however, a strong degree of surrender to Kutavičius’ sense of proportion and, specifically, to the narrowness of the music’s intervals. The nearer to the appreciation of those particular elements one gets, the more likely it is that one will become engrossed in the music.

Jonathan Woolf



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