Mstation Classical Reviews

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Fri, 28 Jan 2005


Yoritsune Matsudaira (1907-2001)
Bugaku Dance Suite

Theme and Variations for Piano and Orchestra (1951)
Danza Rituale e Finale (Enbou) (1959)
Sa-Mai (1958)
U-Mai (1957)
Danza Rituale e Finale (Chogeishi) (1959)

Recorded in Century Orchestra House, Osaka, Japan, 29 July - 2 August 2001.
Ichiro Nodaira, Piano; Osaka Century Orchestra conducted by Ken Takaseki
NAXOS 8.555882

Naxos has been producing several national classics series in recent years and their Japanese Classics has produced some very interesting releases (See, for example, separate review of Qunihico Hashimoto (1904-1949) Symphony No1 in D and Symphonic Suite 'Heavenly Maiden and Fisherman' NAXOS 8.555881). This release of music from the 1950s by Yoritsune Matsudaira brings a name that will probably be unfamiliar to most western listeners to the fore. Matsudaira, who only died in 2001, was a progressive in the blending of traditional Japanese court music (Gagaku) with western symphonic structures and sounds. Whereas many of his contemporaries adopted at first a strongly western approach (Hashimoto - q.v.) and then moved to a more rigorously Japanese sound world (most later Takemitsu), Matsudaira, was from a fairly early time, experimenting with the combination of the western avant garde (as represented by figures such as Stockhausen and Boulez) with traditional Japanese forms of dance music and suite structures.

Of the works presented on this disc the most approachable, and certainly the most enjoyable from the listener's perspective, is the Theme and Variations for Piano and Orchestra from 1951. Ichiro Nodaira is a stylish exponent of this virtuoso music, revelling in the almost jazz-like flow of the piano figuration. The Osaka Century Orchestra play with crisp accuracy although one can suggest that Ken Takaseki could have made much more of the range of colours and textures than he does. The percussion (of which Matsudaira makes very considerable - indeed arguably excessive - use) is too unvaried and soon takes on an aspect of monotony that the rest of the music does not share. There are moments of relief, the great climax in the middle of the last variation, for example, but even this is followed straight away by a return to exactly the same percussion timbre and balance. Overall, the work is impressive and grand, although the surprisingly restrained and quiet ending, with a tiny right hand arpeggio, pianissimo, is unexpected and perhaps a little disappointing, if beautifully handled by the pianist.

The later works that fill the rest of the disc suffer much more than the Variations in sounding dated. The 1950s were possibly an exciting time to be a composer, but 50 years on, most of the music written then holds minimal appeal to the listening public. Danza Rituale e Finale (Enbou) from 1959 comes across as the average listener's perception (or perhaps generalisation) of modern music; viz. unstructured melodic fragments, surrounded by a lot of random crashing and banging. Basically for two flutes which alternate in improvisatory style, with percussion which punctuates the fragments, the work is made of 22 fragments, mostly as short as 11-15 seconds. These are adjusted serially - showing strong Stockhausen/Boulez influence. Unfortunately the result on cd comes across as random waffle, being unable to capture the dramatic sense that could be achieved in live, carefully staged, performance.

Even more regrettable is the fact that it becomes impossible to tell where Danza Rituale e Finale (Enbou) has finished and the following work, Sa-Mai (1958) has begun, because they exist in exactly the same sound world. Unfortunately, where Danza Rituale e Finale (Enbou) is 6'40" long Sa-Mai ploughs on without change or apparent variation for fully 21 minutes and is followed by 14 minutes of U-Mai (1957) which also sounds exactly the same - small fragments of wind melody punctuated by short bangs and crashes on a couple of dry drums. The only apparent addition is a cymbal and a gong doing much the same thing as the drums. There remains no discernable change in tempo and very little change in dynamic and the serial changes in the structure are not discernable without prior careful study of the score. Frankly it all gets monotonous and is not an easy or particularly enjoyable listen.

These works may have merit on their own and any one of them included in a disc could have been interesting, even though they will always give the listener a serious challenge - no bad thing in itself. However, the juxtaposition of so many works that occupy essentially the same type of soundscape is pushing the bounds of being realistic in considering what the domestic listener is able to tolerate. One finds it very hard to imagine a situation where anybody is likely to sit down and listen to this disc without reaching for the remote control, either to skip large chunks or switch to the radio. Not a recommendable release - save your fiver.

(c) Peter Wells 2005

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