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Toshiro MAYUZUMI (1929-1997)
Symphonic Mood (1950) [18:45]
Bugaku - Ballet in Two Parts (Court Dance Music) (1962) [23:29]
Mandala Symphony (1960) [17:54]
Rumba Rhapsody (1948) [8:12]
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa
rec. Michael Fowler Center, Wellington, New Zealand, 23-25 August 2004.
NAXOS 8.557693 [68:20]

The son of a sea captain, Toshiro Mayuzumi came to be recognized as one of Japanís foremost composers. Heavily influenced by the music of Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky, Mayuzumi was also lured by the exotic. Since his father was so widely traveled, the young composer was exposed to a number of foreign cultures early on. Shifts in the political make-up of Japan, and the effects and after-effects of the Second World War also played a major role in his style. As such, the music he left behind covers a wide range of styles and ideas.

The Symphonic Mood, dating from 1950 clearly pays homage to Debussy. Its harmonic structure and broad, sweeping gestures are instantly reminiscent of La Mer and the Nocturnes. Mayuzumi does expand upon the earlier composerís harmonies, however, stretching even impressionist tonalities to a breaking point.

Bugaku lies in stark contrast to the more familiar territory of the Symphonic Mood, makes broad use of traditional eastern instruments, and relies heavily on pentatonic harmonies prevalent in eastern musical traditions. Somewhat more challenging at first, the workís haunting tonal landscape makes for some pretty captivating listening. The second movement is considerably more rhythmic than the first and relies heavily on the percussion section, giving the impression of increased forward motion and less of a dreamscape.

I found the Mandala Symphony to be considerably more formless and random than the first two works. I must confess that music that wanders aimlessly around the orchestra with a bleep-bleep here and a wahhh-wahhhh there punctuated by the occasional blat from the brass and bang from the percussion does not appeal to me. The second movement has more to offer than the first, with its slow underpinning ostinato and dreamy harmonic colors.

During the Second World War, American Jazz was verboten in Japan, but Latin American popular music was still permitted. As such, a number of South American Dance forms such as the rumba and the tango found a way into native music. The Rumba Rhapsody from 1948 is especially attractive music, and shows just how well the composer could make a foreign musical style his very own.

Maestro Yuasa leads first rate performances here and upholds the integrity of the music. Even in the works that held less allure for me, I could still greatly appreciate the craftsmanship of this conductor and his dedication to the music. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra plays splendidly and is obviously dedicated to the music.

Naxos have provided us with a sonically satisfying recording, and the program notes by Morihide Katayama are informative although not over-long. Given that this composer is relatively unknown to western audiences, a little extra might not hurt us.

Kevin Sutton

see also review by Rob Barnett



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