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Vladas JAKUBĖNAS (1904-1976) Choral Songs
Jurgita Mintautiene (soprano) Gintautas Skliutas (tenor) Dainius Jozenas (piano)
Vilnius Municipal Choir Jauna Muzika/Vaclovas Augustinas
rec. December 2004, Lithuanian Radio Studio, Vilnius. TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0028 [54:49]
Toccata Classics are no newcomer in the case of composer Vladas Jakubėnas. In 2014 they issued a chamber music collection that included his String Quartet No. 4 (review) and now they return to this exiled Lithuanian figure. Other CDs are listed at the
LMIC website. Until age forty his time was spent in his country of birth after which his life took him to refugee camps in Germany and in 1949 to the USA. Jazep Vitols (review ~ review) was his teacher at the Riga Conservatoire in the 1920s and Franz Schreker at the Berlin Music Academy towards the end of the decade. In the USA he settled in Chicago where his music archive can still be found. Among his works are a string quartet, an unfinished national ballet (The Fairy Belt of Vaiva) and three symphonies. His music is reputed to be "a fusion of romanticism and impressionism" with folk elements.
This collection of songs, largely for unaccompanied choir - a piano puts in an appearance from time to time - dates from the 1960s and 1970s. The sense of exile from distant homelands has a touching fragrance across the disc's 55 minutes and 18 songs. The longest is 5:12 and the shortest 1:18 so they get succinctly to the point both musically and in the plotline. They are sung by a 25-strong Lithuanian mixed voice choir whose sound is excitingly captured and rendered across the loudspeakers. The songs divide between religious and folk aspects but are always anchored to melody and tonality. The first, O I Would Go, combines the two in a protesting devotion to homeland. The singing often burns fervently but not at the expense of clarity of enunciation or the sheer strength of the unison production. The Song of the Exiles and the Deportees is in the same combined category: "You will love Lithuania from afar - much as I." Our Mother’s Tongue has a piano introduction and is redolent of the Kodaly choral songs. It is for females voices only. At Evening Prayer has the same invocatory simplicity and something of the Rachmaninov Vespers without the deep bass undertow. The lovely Many Lovers Have I Had is sung from a woman's viewpoint and again has a piano introduction. Its rocking motion and nostalgic spirit - "Who will call that summer back" - makes for one of the most affecting songs here. I mentioned Kodaly but the spirit of the folksongs and their 'plotlines' are very much of a piece with the Canteloube Songs of the Auvergne. Hush, Little Sister is notable for its oaken Slavic tone. Then come a less decorated but still fervid group of religious songs: Jesus, Thou art my Life, O, If I Only Could See Him, Here I Am, O King of Glory and In Silence Thou art Celebrated. There's no Howellsian complexity about these. Back to folk themes for Over the Seas Beyond the Nemunas River - again a sturdy and not over-sophisticated folksong. Jakubėnas is good at choosing just the right note and treatment to avoid suffocating these blooms. Another fine song comes in the shape of Oh, Father is Giving His Dear Daughter Away with its medieval subject matter and the cruelty of taking back the errant daughter but not her child. Unusually a soprano solo voice appears here: piercing and poignant. The folksongs do not shy away from a bitter tragic edge. In I Used to Walk in my Garden the voices tell how the man laments his hard-life written on the gate of his mother-in-law's house. There's no trace of humour here. As for the lilting Mother Raised Her Daughter it tells of a foreign marriage and the daughter returning home with little wealth to show for it and with two children. The folksongs continue with High Hills, Level Meadows which seems to take joy in grim events, the lively carolling optimism of A Little Bird is Sitting, Perched and the final sweetness of Across the Seas.
The booklet is well up to Toccata Classics' standards of excellence. There's an English-only essay by Arvydas Kazimieras Karaška and an introduction to the label's Baltic coverage by Martin Anderson. Full sung texts in Lithuanian and English are present and are laid out sensibly side by side.
Contents O I Would Go The Song of the Exiles
and the Deportees Our Mother’s Tongue At Evening Prayer Many Lovers Have
I Had Hush, Little Sister Jesus, Thou art my Life O, If I Only Could See
Him Here I Am, O King of Glory In Silence Thou art Celebrated Over the
Seas, Beyond the Nemunas River Oh, Father is Giving His Dear Daughter Away
I Used to Walk in my Garden Oh. A Girl is Growing, Growing Mother Raised
Her Daughter High Hills, Level Meadows A Little Bird is Sitting, Perched
Across the Seas