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Kôsçak YAMADA (1886-1965)

Overture in D (1912) [3’32]. Symphony in F, ‘Triumph and Peace’ (1912) [36’26]. Symphonic Poems: The Dark Gate (1913) [10’53]; Madara No Hana (1913) [7’40].
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (Overture in D), Ulster Orchestra (rest)/Takuo Yuasa.
Rec. Wellington Town Hall, New Zealand on January 30th, 2002 (Overture in D) and Ulster Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland, on June 7th-8th, 2001 (Symphony) and September 16th-17th, 2000 (Symphonic Poems). DDD
NAXOS 8.555350 [58’21]


Morihide Katayama’s commentary for this Naxos product is a model of its kind. Lucid and detailed, it gives an admirable introduction to the music of one of the ‘first fully-fledged composers that Japan produced’. Kôsçak Yamada was trained in Berlin, arriving at the Musikhochschule there in 1910. The Overture in D dates from just two years later. Conservatively scored (two horns and two trumpets make up the brass section) it is light, almost Mendelssohnian in its breeziness. It does not outstay its welcome and as one listens it becomes obvious that this is written with a very confident hand.

The Symphony is apparently ‘the first-ever symphony by a Japanese composer’. Yamada had grown up surrounded by military music in his youth, and something of that high-spiritedness is present in this piece. Apparently the first theme contains part of the National Anthem of Japan (Kimigayo, a theme the composer was to keep on using in his works as a metaphor for Japan). The work is elegant, indeed suave, the whole evidently springing from a fertile well of ideas. There is even something endearingly balletic about some of the music. The Adagio (non tanto e poco marciale) includes a glorious oboe solo (around 1’44 –and listen to how the clarinet creeps in so magically!). There is much delicacy to this Adagio – a marked contrast to the virile Poco vivace that follows. A breath of fresh air, this latter movement trips along nicely. The Wagnerian chords of the finale’s introduction may come as a surprise after all this and despite the rhythmic spring of the finale proper, the Wagnerisms continue to cast an intermittent shadow over proceedings.

Two tone-poems from the following year (1913) provide the last twenty minutes of the disc.

A poem by Rofu Miki formed the initial creative impetus for The Dark Gate. The poem was written under the influence of Maeterlinck, which might on paper indicate some Debussian references. Instead, we are firmly in (Richard) Straussian territory, from the dark rumblings of the opening to the brighter intensity of the contrasting rising gestures. There is also an ominous-tinged Romantic yearning that underlies the whole.

Finally, and dating from the same year, Madara No Hana again takes its point of departure from a poem, this time by Kazo Saito. The subject matter of the poem refers to flowers in a Buddhist heaven. The sound-world Yamada conjures up here is decidedly more fragrant, almost French à la Ravel. It is here that Yamada’s sensitivity to orchestral sound and balance is most obviously on display and this makes for a most satisfying conclusion to the disc. The booklet notes suggest that these two Symphonic Poems open a gateway that would lead to the music of Takemitsu – it is particularly in Madara No Hana that this becomes aurally obvious.

Highly recommended. Takuo Yuasa’s interpretations show the music in the best possible light (both orchestras play superlatively for him). The recording is excellent.

Colin Clarke



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