Search - Toshiro Mayuzumi, Akira Endo, Robert Whitney :: Toshiro Mayuzumi: Pieces for Prepared Piano and Strings / Samsara, Symphonic Poem / Essay for String Orchestra

Toshiro Mayuzumi:  Pieces for Prepared Piano and Strings / Samsara, Symphonic Poem / Essay for String Orchestra
Toshiro Mayuzumi, Akira Endo, Robert Whitney
Toshiro Mayuzumi: Pieces for Prepared Piano and Strings / Samsara, Symphonic Poem / Essay for String Orchestra
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (5) - Disc #1


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The impossibly short timing has not prevented this disc from
Discophage | France | 05/10/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"When First Edition Music (FEM), a label of the Santa Fe Music Group, acquired the rights to the Louisville catalog in the late 1990s, they embraced the laudable task of reissuing the complete Louisville recordings. Sadly, however, some of their offers where so short as to be self-defeating propositions really, and this Mayuzumi disc, after a few others (Crumb: Variazioni, Echoes of Time and the River, Lou Harrison: Suite for Symphonic Strings; Strict Songs, Gian Francesco Malipiero: Piano Concerto No. 3; Nocturne of songs and Dances; Fantasies of Every Day, Alberto Ginastera) is a case in point: a TT of 39:48 simply won't do, even if the music was outstanding. Obviously FEM gave precedence to program coherence over timing, and these scanty 40- minutes are indeed all the Mayuzumi they ever recorded. But surely, with a little imagination, they could have come up with a coherent coupling. Not that they had many other Japanese composers in their catalog that would have made an obvious pairing - in fact they had none (for all their involvement in 20th Century music the Louiville Orchestra never recorded any Takemitsu for instance). But they could have picked the two pieces by Paul Chihara - an American composer but of Japanese descent - that the orchestra recorded: his Saxophone Concerto and Forest Music. But these two pieces were licensed to CRI (Music of Paul Chihara), so maybe FEM couldn't use them. Still, staying in the Far-East, I think Chou Wen-chung (American composer of Chinese descent, and a famous Varèse protégé and advocate) would have been a great choice, with his two pieces "And the Fallen Petals" (1956) and "Soliloquy of a Bhiksuni" for trumpet, brass and percussion (1958). So far these pieces are un-reissued. Now I believe that FEM has folded (their website is inaccessible and they do not respond to e-mails), before being able to complete the mammoth task of reissuing the complete Louisville catalog, so we are left only with our regrets - and the option of scouting for the relevant LPs.

Now, after venting my frustration, I do owe it to the truth to confess that, in the case of this specific Mayuzumi disc, timing probably doesn't matter: I've been doing a thorough survey of the discs from FEM's Louisville collection and they have been fairly easy to find, at very affordable prices, but this Mayuzumi disc has proved to be the most difficult one to obtain. In fact, I haven't yet: I've borrowed this copy from a friend. My hint is that the Japanese collectors have massively snatched it, making it a super-rare item and fodder for the Internet vultures who will demand unreasonable prices for it.

An the music? In fact it is quite good, without being outstandingly original. Most original I find are the (three) Pieces for Prepared Piano and Strings from 1957. Their terseness and the sonorities of the prepared piano liken them to a mixture of Cage and Webern. 9:29 and it is over.

Though composed five years later, the 20-minute symphonic poem Samsara seems to me to mark a stylistic step back: it is very balletic and develops to great dramatic intensity, with nice atmospheric orchestral colors that brought back to mind Roussel's ballets (Spider's feast), Koechlin's evocative orchestral pieces (The Jungle Book), Villa Lobos' Amazonian pieces (see my review of Genesis / Erosao / Amazonas for instance), and, in some string tremolos full of pent-up menace, Schoenberg's Accompaniment Music for an Imaginary Film. Some themes sound like Varèse but the treatment is very different, and some other passages are strongly smacking of Le Sacre. There is also a short rhythmic passage at 12:35 which fleetingly evokes Messiaen's birds. If you think I am implying that there is nothing in Samsara that you haven't heard before - you are right: that is what I am implying. There is, however, a nice passage for percussion alone at 14:45. It is an entertaining piece, not ground-breaking, not radical. There is another recording, by the Hong-Kong PO under Yoshikazu Fukumura - an early Hong Kong/Marco Polo release, before their Naxos-based success (Toshiro Mayuzumi: Samsara / Phonologie Symphonique / Bacchanale). Although Whitney makes a circa 2-minute cut (at 9:15), I prefer his version, if only because the Louisville 1966 recording has significantly more vivid presence than the 1984 Marco Polo: it does make a difference in impact.

I find Essay for String Orchestra from a year later more interesting. It is again a short piece (10:33), very atmospheric, making use of some of the advanced string techniques of its days (many glissandos), going for color and atmosphere like the works written by Penderecki or Ligeti in those years rather than melody like, say, Barber, and also very gentle in mood: in it the composer sought "to express a sort of Oriental tranquility of stillness".

Good sound from the recordings from respectively 1963, 1966 and 1980. The booklet nicely reproduces a typescript letter from Mayuzumi to Robert Whitney, thanking him for the recording of the Pieces for Prepared Piano. For collector's interest, the Pieces for Prepared Piano were originally released on Louisville LS 636 with Bloch's Proclamation for Trumpet (not reissued) and Frank Martin's Violin Concerto (now on Frank Martin: Violin Concerto; Cello Concerto), Samsara was on Lou 666 with Harris' Epilogue to Profiles in Courage (now on The Louisville Orchestra-First Edition Encores) and Gunther Schuller's Dramatic Overture (not reissued), and Essay came on LS-777 with Duke Ellington's The River (not reissued).

Now I have to return this disc to my friend. A pity.