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Hana Wa Saku - Japanese Songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano)
City of London Sinfonia/Michael Collins
rec. Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, 13-15 February 2016

Here arrives an album standing as successor to Charlotte de Rothschild's first CD of Japanese songs made for Nimbus in 1999. That disc was called "A Japanese Journey" and was for soprano voice and piano played by Masahiro Saitoh (NI6190). This new disc is a further helping, this time of nineteen songs but in orchestral dress. The title means Flowers will bloom. The original spark came as a result of Charlotte de Rothschild's first visit to Japan in 1991. She had learnt the song Quince Flower as an encore and sang it in Japanese. Such was the welcome she received that her interest deepened into both kakyoku (art songs) and dou-you (traditional songs).

Ms de Rothschild points out that in Japan the poet is more important than the composer and is always listed first. However she also states that the music of classical composers such as Ikuma Dan, Kozaburo Hirai, Kohsaku Yamada and Yoshinao Nakata merit greater exposure.

The booklet is nicely done and notes that the orchestrations are variously by David Matthews (eight songs), Stuart Calvert and Yui Kakinuma. These orchestrations should help the songs travel. The intended reception for this disc is indicated by the fact that the liner-notes are in English and in Japanese characters. The sung words are also given, apparently in full, in Japanese characters (Kana) and with detailed thoughtful synoptic translations into English by the singer.

If one were to cast around for a criticism it would be that Westerners would also appreciate a third column of translation where the sung Japanese is rendered in phonetically-styled Western transliteration.

Akatonbo is a sentimental Quilter-like song with a touch of The salley gardens about it. Its warm and almost Edwardian ambience takes it close to lush Graingerism. There's a tendency towards the slow-paced mournfully lachrymose - a sort of Russian sentimentality of the sort done so well by Hvorostovsky. The first two songs do not feel especially Japanese. Narayama's fragile beauty mingles tears and love. The Barber Shop is truly jaunty and very welcome. The image of the King Crab's barber shop is worthy of Maurice Sendak with the over-excited crab chopping off the ear of a rabbit customer. The orchestration picks up on the clacking of the crab claws. It's superbly done.

The Spring Songs are sweetly rocking and sentimental, often slow and very beautiful. They end with a fine example looking forward to a full and voluptuous harvest. Chin chin chidori (Little plovers) mines a vein of sweetness discovered in sorrow. Sakura yoko cho (tr. 11) hymns the cherry trees fully laden with blossom which in turn call to mind memories of lost lovers and friends. Hana wa saku (Flowers will bloom) is very recent in origin. It's a song of hope and remembrance written in the wake of the March 2011 tsunami: the flowers bloom for those many who died and those yet to be born. One wonders about other classical compositions by Japanese composer marking the Tsunami. They are perhaps as numerous as those whose origins can be traced back to disasters of human intervention: 9/11 and beyond that to various atrocities (Lidice - Martinů and Alan Bush) and The Titanic.

Natsu no omoide (When summer comes) exudes a sickness for home - here Oze 'under a distant sky' (tr. 13). Tampopo (Dandelions) stands out for its lissom sing-song melody. It has a spirit paralleling A.E. Housman: how many more dandelion springs will the poet experience? Jogashima no ame is a miniature of the shore of Jogashima with heavy rain providing the backdrop. The words express a grey melancholy ecstasy as the fisherman-lover departs and his boat disappears into the mist. Near its end there's an uncharacteristic burst of happiness and then a fading away. Ta-anki Po-onki portrays a crow pecking at an optimistic but ill-fated pond snail. The pecking motion is innocently rendered by the orchestra. It's rather like the clacking claw sounds in the charming crab barber song (tr. 4). Akikaze yo has the Russian shiver of an autumnal wind and with it the falling of yellow leaves. Karamatsu (Deciduous pine) is a triumph of unhurried sentiment. It's actually quite Puccinian. Many of these delicate songs inhabit a genre not that distant from Novello and even Lehár.

The orchestra is the City of London Sinfonia, for years associated with the conductor Richard Hickox. Here it is graciously directed by another Chandos artist, the clarinettist Michael Collins.

This is a project well put together and carried through with polish, taste and freshness.

Rob Barnett

Akatonbo (Red Dragonfly)
Kirito Hanashita (Talking with the Mist)
Narayama Nara (Mountain)
Awate Toko Ya (Barber Shop)
Haru (Spring)
Kaze Ni Yosete Utaeru Haru No Uta (Four Spring Wind Songs)
Chin Chin Chidori (When Little Plovers Sing at Night)
Sakura Yoko Cho (Cherry Alley)
Hana Wa Saku (Flowers Will Bloom)
Natsu No Omoide (When Summer Comes)
Karatachi No Hana (Quince Flower)
Tampopo (Dandelions)
Jogashima No Ame (Rain in Jogashima)
Ta-Anki Po-Onki (Pond Snail)
Akikaze Yo (My Autumn Wind)
Karamatsu (Deciduous Pine)



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