Japanese Orchestral Favourites (Ryusuke Numajiri/ Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.555071)
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Japanese Orchestral Favourites
In the second half of the sixteenth century Japan, for a time, acceptedEuropean music, but this acceptance was cut short by the policy that rejectedall European influences. It was only in the second half of the nineteenth centurythat the door was opened again to Europe and that European music once morefound a place. In 1921 the first Japanese work for a European-style orchestrawas composed, the Overture by K??s?ºakYamada, who had studied in Berlin. Thereafter the number of orchestral works byJapanese composers increased steadily, so that, from the later 1930s untiltoday, there are annually some thirty such compositions, mounting sometimes toas many as a hundred. The present collection includes six of those best known inJapan, with four of them based on the traditional Japanese pentatonic scale.
Yuzo Toyama was born in Tokyo in 1931. He studied composition underKan'-ichi Shimofusa, a pupil of Hindemith and a conducting student of Kurt Wossand Wilhelm Loibner, both of whom conducted the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyoin the 1950s. Toyama has served as the principal conductor of a number oforchestras in Japan. As a composer he has been under the influence of Bartokand Shostakovich in particular, and like Kodaly he attaches great importance tothe use of folk melodies in his works. Among these are two symphonies, threepiano concertos and two violin concertos. His Rhapsody was written in 1960 as an encore piece for the Europeantour of the NHK Symphony Orchestra in which he took part as a conductor. Itstarts with repeated sounds from the hyoshigi,a pair of wood blocks, as used in Kabuki theatre, and is followed by themelodies of a series of well-known Japanese folk-songs. The tune of Antagata dokosa ('Where are you from?')is heard from the trumpet, the Hokkaido fishermen's song Soran-bushi from the brass, a banquet song Tankou-bushi ('Coalminers' song') from Kyushu on the strings andanother banquet song from the Kansai area, Kushimoto-bushi
from the flute. A pack-horse driver's song, Oiwake-bushi,from the highlands of central Japan, the Nagano region, softly played on theflute, constitutes the central section of the whole work, which ends with Yagi-bushi, a festival song handed downin the Kanto area, providing an emphatic finale.
Hidemaro Konoye was born in 1898 into a high-ranking aristocraticfamily, the brother of the prime minister of Japan about the year 1940. Hestudied composition under K??s?ºak Yamada in Tokyo and later in Europe underVincent d'Indy and Max von Schillings, with conducting under Erich Kleiber. Hewas not only an important conductor in Japan but also conducted orchestras inabroad, including the Berlin Philharmonic, the orchestra of La Scala, Milan andthe NBC Symphony Orchestra. He conducted the first recording of Mahler's Symphony No.4 and was part of a socialcircle that included Furtwangler and Richard Strauss. He died in 1973. Konoyewrote original compositions, but was more deeply interested in arrangingexisting music, including, for example, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and Schubert's C major Quintet, which he orchestrated. Etenraku is an arrangement of a gagaku
piece of the same title. Gagaku isthe traditional music of the Japanese Imperial court, handed down from ancienttimes, played by an orchestra of woodwind, plucked instruments and percussion.
This music was introduced from China, Korea and Vietnam between the fifth andeighth centuries and adapted to the taste of Japanese people of the day, withoriginal Japanese music added to the repertoire. Sometimes said to have beenintroduced to Japan from China, Etenraku
is of uncertain origin. Its melody, however, has long been familiar to peoplein Japan, adapted in popular songs and today often used as background music inwedding receptions. Konoye's arrangement cleverly produces somethingapproaching the orchestral effect of a Western orchestra in his version for gagaku orchestra. In ternary form, thearrangement was first performed under the direction of the composer in Moscow in1931, to be performed subsequently in more than fifty cities throughout theworld. Leopold Stokowski included the work in his repertoire and in Europe thepiece was often regarded as akin to Debussy. Whenever this comment was made,however, Konoye refuted it by pointing out that the truth was the opposite andthat it was Debussy who was influenced by gagaku,which had been introduced to Europe at the Paris International Exposition of1889.
Akira Ifukube was born in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan,in 1914, and was prompted to devote himself to music after hearing Stravinsky'sThe Rite of Spring. Virtuallyself-educated, he completed his JapaneseRhapsody in 1935. The work won the prize instituted by the Russian emigreAlexander Tcherepnin, who had moved to Shanghai to study Asian music and whosought to make Japanese music more widely known throughout the world. Thejudges, Roussel, Ibert, Honegger, Tansman, Harsanyi, Ferroud and Gil-Marchex,were unanimous in their decision. The work was first performed in 1936 underFebian Sevitsky by the Boston People's Orchestra, and in 1939 won the approvalof Sibelius at its first performance in Helsinki, events that gave valuableencouragement to Japanese composers, whose work was still little heard abroad.
The Rhapsody consists of Nocturne and F?¬te. The first of these is in ternary form, its first sectiondominated by a sad, folk-song-like theme, presented in an extended viola solo.
The central section is a tense evocation of the night. In F?¬te themes from traditional Japanese festive music are presented.
In both movements an important element is provided by the nine-man percussionsection, while the second movement involves special techniques, includingbowing on the fingerboard and the plucking of violins held downwards, likeguitars. No specific folk melody is used. As a result of the award of theTcherepnin Prize, Ifukube became a pupil of Alexander Tcherepnin. Hissubsequent works include Symphonic Ode toBuddha, Sinfonia Tapkaara, twoviolin concertos, a marimba concerto and about three hundred pieces ofincidental music for films, including Godzilla.
Yasushi Akutagawa was born in Tokyo in 1925, the son of one of theleading Japanese writers of the first half of the century, Ryunosuke Akutagawa.
He studied in Tokyo with Ifukube and Kunihiko Hashimoto, guided by theaesthetic philosophy of rough manliness of the former and the lyricism of thelatter. He was greatly influenced by the music of Shostakovich and Prokofiev,which was widely heard in Japan after the war, and he played an important partin the musical exchange between Japan and the Soviet Union. He died in 1989.
Some of Akutagawa's works were played under the direction of leading Russianconductors, including Anosov and Gergiev. His compositions include an opera, Orpheus of Hiroshima, Ellora Symphony, a cello concerto, andsome hundred examples of music for the cinema. Music for Symphony Orchestra was first performed in 1950 by the NHKSymphony Orchestra under the direction of Hidemaro Konoye and was soon taken upby Thore Johnson and the Symphony of the Air, to be heard in cities all overthe United States, leading to immediate world-wide recognition. The first ofthe two movements, marked Andantino,is in ternary form, with witty motifs appearing one after another in the firstsection, supported by the snare drum, framing a central section of moremelancholy hue. The following <