> Japanese Orchestral Favourites Naxos [HC]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Japanese Orchestral Favourites
Yuzo TOYAMA (born 1931)

Rhapsody for Orchestra (1960)
Hidemaro KONOYE (1898 – 1973)

Etenraku (1931)
Akira IFUKUBE (born 1914)

Japanese Rhapsody (1935)
Yasushi AKUTAGAWA (1925 – 1989)

Music for Symphony Orchestra (1950)
Kiyoshige KOYAMA (born 1914)

Kobiki-Uta (1957)
Takashi YOSHIMATSU (born 1953)

Threnody to Toki Op.12 (1980)
Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra; Ryusuke Numajiri
Recorded: Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space, July 2000
NAXOS 8.555071 [65:41]


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Most pieces here will probably be as unfamiliar to readers as they were to me, for very little Japanese music is known in the West although some composers have had some popularity outside Japan. I was thus quite surprised to read that Konoye’s arrangement of old Japanese tunes Etenraku (1931) had been taken-up by Stokowski and that Ifukube’s Japanese Rhapsody (1935) had been admired by Roussel, Honegger and Sibelius.

So, let’s start at the beginning. Konoye, who was also a conductor and had been a pupil of Vincent d’Indy in Paris, made his arrangement of old Japanese gagaku tunes Etenraku in 1931. The music, even in its Westernised garb, sounds quintessentially Japanese. It is a very fine piece of orchestration and a quite attractive work in its own right. Curiously, though I am sure that I have never heard it before, it sounded quite familiar.

Ifukube may be a much better-known name though his music must still be a terra incognita for many music lovers. His Japanese Rhapsody of 1935 is a really beautiful work. The titles of its two movements (Nocturne and Fêtes) bring Debussy to mind, and the music certainly sounds impressionistic. It is beautifully, often delicately scored and is as authentically Japanese as Konoye’s arrangement, although it does not use any folk tunes at all.

Koyama’s Kobiki-Uta, dating from 1957, is a set of variations on a traditional work-song (actually a wood-cutter’s song); and, at times, as at the very beginning of the piece, the music imitates the sound of the wood-cutter’s saw. A colourful, worthwhile novelty.

Akutagawa’s nondescript Music for Symphony Orchestra completed in 1950 is the only work in this selection to have no particular connection with Japan. The first part Andantino is some sort of easy-going Nocturne whereas the second part Allegro is a rumbustious Galop redolent of, say, Kabalevsky. A delightful, though somewhat lighter piece.

Toyama’s Rhapsody for Orchestra (1960) also uses a number of traditional tunes, all brilliantly scored. Another very attractive lighter work.

Yoshimatsu, the youngest composer here, is probably the best-known of all, since a number of his major orchestral works have recently been recorded by Chandos. Though not extravagantly modern, Yoshimatsu’s sound world exploits various resources of the modern symphony orchestra. His beautifully atmospheric Threnody to Toki Op.12 dating from 1980 is modestly scored for piano and strings. The toki is the Japanese crested ibis, an endangered species which the composer thus sees as the symbol of natural beauty threatened by the modern world. The music is delicately scored with many arresting string textures, and vividly evokes the flight of the toki.

Excellent performances of these colourful and varied works, fine recorded sound and informative notes. This is the first instalment of a projected series of sixty CDs of Japanese music, and it augurs well for what is to come.

Hubert Culot

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