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Japanese Guitar Music - Volume 2
Akira NAKADA (1886-1931)
A Song of Early Spring (arr. Toru Takemitsu) [3:42]
Hiroshi HARA (1933-2002)
Canto funèbre (1969) [6:20]
Akira MIYOSHI (1933-2013)
Epitase (1975) [5:06]
Cinq poèmes pour la guitarre (1985) [7:41]
Shin-ichiro IKEBE (b. 1943)
A Guitar Bears and She Keeps Hoping (2007) [11:12]
Katja’s Theme (from Spy Sorge) (2003) [3:54]
Toshio HOSOKAWA (b. 1955)
Serenade (2003) [13:57]
Two Japanese Folk Songs (2003) [9:05]
Shin-ichi Fukuda (guitar)
rec. 25-28 September, 2014, St. John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada
NAXOS 8.573457 [60:58]

Shin-ichi Fukuda’s first volume of Japanese guitar music focused on the solo works of Toru Takemitsu, one of the most famous names in the country’s musical history. Now he expands the project’s scope to five more composers, one of them heard in a Takemitsu arrangement, in music that ranges from the early 1900s to a decade-old piece by a living composer.

In general, the music on this program is a little more challenging, a little more adventurous. There are exceptions, like the lyrical folksong that begins the album, and the attractive movie theme by Shin-ichiro Ikebe. But Akira Miyoshi, especially, is influenced by Dutilleux and other composers whose works he heard during studies in 1950s Paris. His five Poèmes have unusual phrase lengths and structures, because they are based on the syllabic pattern of haiku.

The most substantial piece on the album is a Serenade by Toshio Hosokawa, perhaps Japan’s most famous living composer. With microtonal harmonies and playing techniques derived from traditional Japanese stringed instruments, the language of this work may be unfamiliar to many listeners; the first movement begins very slowly and sparsely and slowly builds momentum as it moves forward. The second movement, based on an insistent repeated figure, reminds me somewhat of Ravel’s “Le gibet.”

Shin-ichiro Ikebe’s oddly-titled piece A Guitar Hopes and She Keeps Bearing is inspired by his visits to Nazi concentration camps, but its lament is restrained, and never grows too emotive. I’d also like to point out the funereal elegy by Hiroshi Hara, which seems to take its cue from Ravel and Poulenc, but is very naturally written for guitar.

As with Volume 1, this disc brings great discoveries, not least of them the impeccable artistry of Shin-ichi Fukuda, who clearly loves this music and, in fact, has known and worked with many of the composers. He is clearly a major guitarist, not just in Japan but on the global scene. I regret to say that I’ve taken so long to review this disc that Volume 3 is already being released. On the other hand, the good news is that we needn’t wait for more. One of Naxos’s most interesting series continues to reap rewards.

Brian Reinhart



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