Yoshinao NAKADA (1923-2000)
Cherry Alley [2:36]
The Lullaby [4:10]
Dandelions [1:37]
When I Feel Sad [3:07]
Talking with the Mist [3:37]
A Horned Owl [5:13]
Gate to the Unknown World [2:08]
Songs of Japanese Toys (1966) [13:27]
Six Songs for Children (1947) [13:19]
Eight Songs for Children (1958) [12:39]
Waleria Przelaskowska-Rokita (mezzo)
Witold Woloszynski (piano)
rec. Concert Hall, State Music School no.1, Warsaw, 8-12 February 2010. DDD
There is very little information available on Japanese composer Yoshinao Nakada. His entry in Oxford Music Online amounts to a threadbare biographical paragraph - and at the time of writing even has him still alive, eleven years after his death. Concomitantly, although the CD booklet optimistically describes Nakada as "one of the most renowned Japanese composers of the twentieth century", little of his music is known outside his homeland, and commercial recordings are few and far between. Polish mezzo Waleria Przelaskowska-Rokita opens her recital with 'Cherry Alley', which is relatively rare in having been recorded on more than one occasion. Soprano Aki Yamamura sings it, for example, on an EigenArt release (10380) under the more poetically translated title, 'Cherry Blossoms Lane', along with Sadao Bekku's setting of this text by Shuichi Kato. The song also appears on a 1997 BIS issue, 'Japanese Art Songs' (CD-889), performed by Yoshikazu Mera again as 'Cherry Blossoms Lane'. Mera also sings Nakada's 'Talking with the Mist' - this time less beguilingly titled 'I Talked with the Fog' - on another BIS disc from the same year, 'Japanese Popular Songs' (CD-906). Besides the songs, there have been one or two CDs featuring the odd chamber work by Nakada, such as his Japanese Autumn Song for flute and piano, again on BIS (CD-1059).
Piano music, often pedagogic, and songs form a large part of Nakada's extensive corpus - numbering more than a thousand, according to the booklet - with choral works and incidental music for radio and television making up most of the rest. Nakada's songs are deeply conservative, right out of the 19th and early 20th century lied and mélodie tradition.
This was a conscious decision by Nakada: beauty of melody was, in his opinion, the most important aspect of music. The supreme lyricism of his songs may not garner approval from the mavens - some will consider the Eight Songs of Children almost more appropriate to 1858 than 1958 - but it has brought them considerable and continuing popularity within Japan. Moreover, as this programme demonstrates, Nakada's music is more than just lovely, lilting melody: there is much emotional depth, even in the sets of so-called children's songs, heightened by subtle pentatonic colouration and delicious, wistful-sounding harmonies. Perhaps the finest music is to be found in the seven Songs of Japanese Toys, settings of poignant childhood-lost texts by Eriko Kishida, one of which contains a surprising, funny tribute to Mozart and another possibly to Liszt; and in the equally memorable, very modestly titled Six Songs for Children.
The CD booklet contains all the song texts in Polish, English and the original Japanese, with translations soberly and poetically done, although only a fluent reader of Japanese kanji and kana will be able to attest to accuracy. Przelaskowska-Rokita herself was involved in the translation of the Japanese texts into Polish, and then the Polish was translated separately into English. Przelaskowska-Rokita sings in Japanese, which is obviously the authentic thing to do, but how good is her Japanese? Many singers struggle enough with the pronunciation of the staple languages of European music - English, German, French, Italian and Russian - to make the idea of singing in Japanese, as Euro-friendly as its sounds generally are, unconscionable, if not quite an act of artistic hara-kiri. Fortunately, Przelaskowska-Rokita's biographical note reveals her "fascination with Japanese culture", and, more importantly, the fact that she spent two periods in the 1990s in Japan, both singing and teaching. In the final reckoning, she is likely to convince Western audiences, only really letting her origins show with a very Slavic laugh ('Uhuhuhuhu') in the fourth of the Eight Songs for Children.
Her voice quality, however, is a different matter. There is just a slight reediness to her voice that some may dislike. A tendency towards shrillness might be predicted, though Nakada's mellifluous songs rarely take singers much outside their comfort zone. On the whole, Przelaskowska-Rokita copes admirably with the demands of the score - only in the fifth of the seven Songs of Japanese Toys does she briefly waver with a very high, sustained note. Otherwise a combination of good intonation and worldly-wise expressiveness (Przelaskowska-Rokita was born in 1963) amounts to an attractive recital, with very professional accompaniment by Witold Woloszynski. This is the first recording of both artists for Acte Préalable, and possibly for any label, and one they can both look back on with a fair amount of pride.
Sound quality is good, though the piano sounds just a trifle muffled. The CD booklet has the usual Acte Préalable quality feel to it. The picture on the cover, also printed onto the CD itself, is a section of a painting by early 20th century Polish artist Józef Pankiewicz. He has no connection with either the music or performers on the CD, yet rather extravagantly the booklet carries a trilingual biography of him that is even slightly longer than that of Nakada! The other criticism of the booklet is the very meagre information on the songs themselves - no more than a few lines in total.
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A combination of good intonation and worldly-wise expressiveness amounts to an attractive recital.