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Kósçak (Kōsaku) YAMADA (1886-1965)
Nagauta Symphony ‘Tsurukame’ (1934)1 [17:23]
Sinfonia ‘Inno Meiji’ (1921)2 [18:28]
Choreographic Symphony ‘Maria Magdalena’ (1918) [15:39]
1Touon Tetsuo Miyata; Touon Toshimitsu Moraji; Touon Taro Yamaguchi; Touon Jun Ajimi; Touon Keizo Miyata (nagauta vocalists); Touon Toru Ajimi; Touon Takehisa Takahashi; Touon Shiro Minoda; Touon Yutaka Miyata; Touon Gojiro Sakamoto (shamisens); Sataro Mochizuki; Satahoshiro Mochizuki; Tatsuyuki Mochizuki; Roei Tosha; Toru Fukahara (hayoshi); 2Yumiko Mizoiri (hichiriki)
Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa
rec. 17 October 2005, Kodaira Citizens Cultural Hall, Tokyo.
Booklet notes in English. English translation of text for Tsurukame included


Experience Classicsonline

The Naxos Japanese Classics series has offered recordings of music by Tōru Takemitsu as well as a swathe of far less familiar names such as Komei Abe (1911-2006), Qunihico Hashimoto (1904-1949) and Hisato Ohzawa (1907-1953). What much of this music has shown is that
Japan’s fledgling foray into Western Art Music was dominated by European models. Composers travelled west to study with some of the foremost teachers of their day. One would be hard pushed to identify some of it as from the Land of the Rising Sun. 

This present disc is the second in this series dedicated to the music of Kósçak Yamada. Let me first clear up a linguistic anomaly. Yamada’s give name was actually Kōsaku. The fanciful ‘Kósçak’ was a name he used in the West, perhaps to ingratiate himself with a Europe not then used to Japanese ‘classical’ musicians. He should, however, rightly be known as Kōsaku Yamada and it is a shame Naxos did not at least acknowledge this. That having been said, he was considered to be the earliest and most important contributor to the development of Western music in Japan. Yamada grew up in the generation following the end of the power of the Samurai warriors and Japan’s beginning of trade with the outside world. It was a time of tremendous change in the country and it is difficult to imagine that Western Arts Music would have been able to get a foothold in the old Japan. 

In 1904 Yamada entered The Tokyo Music School, which was founded in 1879 to promote Western music. He studied with two German teachers at the Music School and Yamada’s passion for Western music and composing was soon recognised. His teachers were able to get Yamada financial help from the Mitsubishi Corporation to enable him to study with Max Bruch and Leopold Carl Wolff at the Musikhochschule in Berlin in 1910. The models which inspired and stayed with Yamada his whole career included Wagner, Richard Strauss, Debussy and Skryabin. These influences would be absorbed into Yamada’s musical personality, along with Japanese classical music to create a unique but variable musical style. It was during this period in Berlin that Yamada wrote the music featured on the first Naxos CD dedicated to his music (Naxos 8.555350). Yamada went on to be an important figure in Japanese music during the first half of the twentieth century, writing children’s songs, conducting worldwide and being a powerful advocate for music education. 

It struck me as somewhat strange that the works on this disc are presented in reverse chronological order. I found it far more beneficial to play the works in the order that they were written to better grasp the range of Yamada’s style and development. The earliest work on this CD is the ‘Choreographic Symphony’ Maria Magdalena from 1916-18 – a time when Yamada had been working hard to help create some kind of infrastructure for Western music in Japan. There hadn’t been a single orchestra in Japan until 1911 and upon his return from Berlin he helped to found several orchestras and opera companies. Maria Magdalena shows a very strong Richard Strauss influence. It was originally conceived in 1916 as a half-hour ballet based on Maeterlinck’s play of the same name. The ballet, however, was unrealised and so Yamada re-worked his sketches into the Choreographic Symphony as heard on this CD. This colourful score shows the influences of Strauss and Wagner (at 6:46 and 13:04) very strongly and contains some strikingly lyrical Straussian writing (eg 2:53). And is that a snatch of Mahler’s First Symphony at 9:21? The music is less derivative than perhaps I have made it appear and I seem to have enjoyed it far more than Dan Morgan in an earlier MusicWeb review of this CD. Given its first performance in Carnegie Hall, New York City in 1918, this is a very attractive symphonic poem which will give much pleasure. 

A few years later Yamada composed what was to be one of his most performed pieces, the Sinfonia Inno Meiji, which was premičred in Tokyo in 1921 and then performed all over Europe conducted by Yamada himself. This work represents a move forward in Yamada’s style. The scent of Skryabin is never far away in this work. Like Maria Magdalena, this is a symphonic poem rather than a ‘symphony’ or ‘sinfonia’. ‘Meiji’ refers to the Emperor who ruled Japan between 1868 and 1912; the time when Japan was changing it relationship with the West. As well as a large post-Romantic orchestra, Inno Meiji makes use of the Japanese double-reed instrument, the hichiriki (at 13:38) and a great deal of percussion (temple blocks abound!). However, I found the introduction of the hichiriki rather intrusive and out of place rather than it adding anything to the music. The opening three minutes of this work are truly beautiful and show a well-developed ear for orchestral colours and textures. Disembodied string chords come out of nowhere, fragments of oriental-tinged melody are then introduced one minute in and the textures thicken very slowly. However, this opening section is quite episodic and my interest soon waned somewhat. Finally, at 7:23 there is a beautiful melodic section where hints of Wagner are heard for the first time in this work. Perhaps because of its balletic origins, I didn’t find this piece flowed nearly as well as Maria Magdalena and I was left strangely unsatisfied, even after repeated listenings. 

The latest work on this CD is the Nagauta Symphony ‘Tsurukame’ from 1934. It uses as its basis a piece of classical Japanese music Tsurukame written in 1851 by Kineya Rokuzamon X. The original Tsurukame was the first Noh­-derived Nagauta and was intended as a concert piece. It soon became popular with dancers, however, and has enjoyed a great deal of popularity in Japan ever since. Nagauta (literally ‘long song’) is a genre of Japanese classical music which accompanies kabuki theatre. This example is particularly significant; tsuru means ‘crane’ (the bird) in Japanese, while kame translates as ‘tortoise’. These two creatures represent long life in Japanese culture. The music and text of Tsurukame celebrate New Year in ancient China, the crane and tortoise blessing the Emperor with eternal life. Yamada adds his own fairly traditional Western-style orchestral music to this classical Japanese piece and the result is quite startling – like the clash of two completely different cultures rather than the unification of them. I found it all deeply unsatisfactory and certainly the least successful music on this disc for my ears. 

The performances by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, Takuo Yuasa and a host of Japanese musicians, including five vocalists and a plethora of shamisens (Japanese three-stringed lutes) in the Nagauta Symphony, are fine enough. The recording quality by the engineers and producer of Octavia Records in Japan, who were responsible for the recording, do a fine job in capturing the very wide range of textures and colours in this singular music.

Overall, this CD proved to be a fascinating snapshot of the work of this important ‘early’ Japanese composer just don’t expect any earth-shattering discoveries. 

Derek Warby 

see also Review by Dan Morgan



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