The Louisville analogue
heritage both mono and stereo has been
reanimated by Matthew Walters First
Edition CD label. In a visionary recording
programme that stretched from the 1950s
to the 1980s, first Robert Whitney and
then Jorge Mester commissioned and recorded
contemporary works as well as a smattering
of works from the early twentieth and
nineteenth centuries. The accent was
on new commissions and on the neglected
and the modern. It was a startlingly
valiant enterprise and no doubt continued
despite boardroom struggles, union issues,
personality conflicts and financial
Toshiro Mayuzumi may
be best known to music-lovers in the
West as the writer of at least one Biblical
film score for Hollywood. In addition
however there are symphonies, other
orchestral works, electronic pieces,
operas and even musicals. He studied
with Ifukube and Ikenouchi at Tokyo
University and emerged equipped to adopt
Western avant-garde paraphernalia to
express Buddhist values and the musical
traditions of ancient Japan.
This is the first time
I have encountered his music although
I have certainly heard of his symphonies.
The Pieces for Prepared Piano
and Strings is a work conducted
by Whitney and has Benjamin Owen as
the solo pianist. The score prescribes
in detail the insert of bolts or screws
of various sizes inside the piano as
well as two pieces of rubber. Around
the surprisingly varied textures thus
extracted from the piano wisps of sound
are conjured in a spare and diaphanous
skein from the orchestra. Fragments
of ideas rise and fall away all the
time. Longer lines are suggested, insinuated
but not fully stated - it’s all very
subtle and minimal. Five years later
Mayuzumi wrote the twenty minute continuous
20 minute tone poem Samsara.
The title refers to the cycle of birth,
death and rebirth. This work feels more
fully rounded. It is an unashamedly
philosophical-mysterious piece related
to the Buddhist faith. It has the surface
impression of early Messiaen though
not as rampantly romantic - more suggestive
of eternity and sphinx-like arcana.
Finally comes the Essay for
string orchestra - the latest work here.
This is eerie and is written for the
highest reaches of the violin register.
The fine conductor Akeo Watanabe felt
that the work was strongly connected
to the Japanese Gagaku style. It is
however slightly more thorny than the
Gagaku-based works of Cowell and Hovhaness.
The violin ululations (5:30) link with
Penderecki’s Hiroshima Threnody.
Everything here is
in stereo and while the sound is not
the state of the art it is very complementary
to this subtle and unusual music. It
is a pity that there was not another
Mayuzumi work that could have been added
but even so this disc is essential to
any Mayuzumi collection.