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Yoritsune MATSUDAIRA (1907-2001)
Theme and Variations for Piano and Orchestra* (1951) [17:10]
Bugaku (Dance Suite):
Danza Rituale e Finale (Enbou) (1959) [6:40]
Sa-Mai (1958) [21:26]
U-Mai (1957) [14:20]
Danza Rituale e Finale (Chogeishi) (1959) [10:37]
*Ichiro Nodaira (piano)
Osaka Century Orchestra/Ken Takaseki
Rec. Century Orchestra House, Osaka in July and August 2001. DDD
NAXOS 8.555882 [70:43]

Yoritsune Matsudaira was regarded as a leading 20th century Japanese composer but has yet to make much impact internationally. He was descended from the Shogun family who ruled Japan from 1603-1867. After initially studying French literature, his interest in music developed during the 1920s, culminating in formal studies under Kosuke Komatsu (a pupil of Vincent d’Indy). Late in that decade he began to compose and also became known as a pianist. He was anti-romantic and attracted to French neo-classicism. Initially using material derived from folksongs derived from the Nanbu district, he switched to Gagaku (a form of traditional Japanese court music based on pentatonic scales) during the Second World War. In the 1950s the character of his music changed dramatically as he began to incorporate the avant-garde techniques of Stockhausen and Boulez. From then on his music made use of polytonality, microtonality and aleatory elements. Matsudaira’s orchestral writing is mixture of Eastern and Western styles and he makes prominent use of various percussion instruments. More information about the composer’s works can be found at http://www.musicfromjapan.org/resources/mfjc25.htm.

On this disc the opening Theme and Variations for Piano and Orchestra represents the tail end of his first period when French neo-classical influence was still evident. This contrasts greatly in style with the other, later works on the disc. The theme for this work is taken from Gagaku and played unadorned only by the orchestra. The piano enters with a solo marked andante at the beginning of the first of six variations which are seamlessly constructed. The writing becomes increasingly animated during the second and third variations. In the latter, the music is dodecaphonic and the influence of jazz rhythms evident. The fourth variation is a lyrical nocturne and is followed by two rhythmic allegros with the final variation marked Toccata meccanica. The final section of this variation adopts a slower tempo and ultimately the music comes to a natural, unforced conclusion.

During the 1950s the Theme and Variations was performed by Herbert von Karajan, both in Europe and Japan. It is hard to imagine Karajan conducting the works which follow. Apparently written separately, together the four works constitute a Bugaku or Dance Suite. Framed by relatively short Ritual Dances (Enbou to open and Chogeishi to finish) are the more substantial Sa-Mai (Left Dance) and U-Mai (Right Dance) in five and three sections respectively. The instrumentation varies somewhat between the works but is essentially based around woodwinds and percussion.

The Enbou is very unusual. The purpose of this dance is to purify the stage and Matsudaira does this in three sections. The first, Preludietto, consists of 13 very brief fragments (the shortest is 11 seconds and longest 15 seconds) interspersed with several seconds of silence in between each one. In the central Preludio the music is continuous for two whole minutes before the coda reprises some of the fragments. It is hard to describe the effect and not easy to appreciate how this could be danced. The rest of the works offer a more integrated listening experience but none of it is easy on the ear. During the Chogeishi the audience is meant to leave but I suspect that some Western audiences wouldn’t get that far.

Since this disc is going to be an educational experience for most listeners (at least outside Japan), the documentation is a particularly important consideration. Fortunately, this is excellent, consisting mainly of a detailed and well-written essay in English by Morihide Katayama (with a German translation). There are also brief notes on the performers. Being unfamiliar with much of the musical idiom, I feel unqualified to comment on their performances and certainly found nothing to criticize. The sound quality is very good.

After an opener which admirers of Milhaud should enjoy, this music is not for the faint-hearted. Nevertheless, this seems to be an important disc for anyone interested in 20th century Japanese music.

Patrick C Waller


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