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Akira IFUKUBE (b. 1914)
Sinfonia Tapkaara (1954 rev. 1979) [25:57]
Ritmica Ostinata for piano and orchestra (1961 rev.1972) [21:33]
Symphonic Fantasia No. 1 (1983) [13:15]
Ekaterina Saranceva (piano)
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky
rec. 3-12 May 2004, Studio 5, Russian State TV and Radio Company KULTURA, Moscow. DDD
NAXOS 8.557587 [60:45]

Ifukube was born in Hokkaido into a family with a long priestly history in the Shinto religion. His school life in Sapporo brought him into contact through scores and records with the music of Ravel, Stravinsky and de Falla. These influences interacted with the Ainu tradition.

Tapkaara is a reference to the dance style of the Ainu people indigenous to the north Japanese island of Hokkaido. The 1954 symphony of that name is in three movements. The first is a long and insistently pulsing. It is substantially a battering study in colour with a strong redolence of Rimsky-Korsakov and especially of the Mussorgsky-Ravel Pictures from an Exhibition. The gently lulling central Adagio is charged with a slowly dripping sorrow - almost Hovhaness or Cowell in their Oriental mode but softened and loose in focus. In the final Vivace we return to a pulsating insistence with brass adding thunderous exclamation and the redolence of The Rite of Spring. Ultimately these three ‘pictures’ strike me as static with a strong sense of colour but little feeling of ineluctable progress.

Ritma Ostinata is in one long movement for very active piano with orchestra. The pealing attack of solo and ensemble has many cross-references including Grainger (Green Bushes and Strathspey and Reel), Godowsky (Java Suite) woven with Ainu influences. Its thundered insistence recalls the minimalist school but there is variety too as in the angular stony protest of 4:23 onwards - an episode that grows into melodrama. Especially attractive is the rocky impacting syncopation at 11.23. Again this piece has little sense of western-style progression but again predicts certain aspects of the minimalist school

Finally in Symphonic Fantasia No. 1 there comes a work spun from Ifukube's stage-Gothic music for the multitudinous Japanese Godzilla films. The pounding rhythmic cannonade hardly ever lets up except to grind with tense celluloid horror. We can almost see the yawning chasms evoked by cymbal and gong. Black deeds and destruction are carried by coal-dark trombones and scouring trumpets. Towards the end a sort of all-purpose jollity skips and hiccups along.

It is so valuable that this music has been recorded but this is music of fascination rather than offering anything compelling.

Rob Barnett



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