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Toshiro MAYUZUMI (1929–1997)
Phonologie Symphonique (1957) [9:35]
Bacchanale (1953) [10:46]
Samsara (1962) [22:34]
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra/Yoshikazu Fukumura
rec. 25–29 March 1984, Tsuen Wan Town Hall, Hong Kong. DDD
NAXOS 8.573916 [43:06]
Previously released on Marco Polo 6.220297

Nirvana Symphony for male chorus and orchestra (1958) [37:39]
Tokyo Choraliers;
NHK Symphony Orchestra/Hiroyuki Iwaki
Premiere recording.
Released in 2014.
Available to stream – from Naxos Music Library – or download only. No CD.
NAXOS JAPAN NYNN-0055 [37:39]

Ecstatic Drumbeats
Yiu-Kwong CHUNG (b.1956)

Concerto for Percussion and Chinese Orchestra after three poems by Qing Huang (2009) [27:00]
1. The Moon’s Lament [9:39]
2. I Believe [9:11]
3. Heading For [7:55]
Keiko ABE (b.1937)
Prism Rhapsody for marimba and orchestra (1995/96) (Orchestral part arranged for Chinese orchestra by Yiu-Kwong Chung) [14:23]
Nebojša Jovan ŽIVKOVIĆ (b.1962)
Born to Beat Wild for suona and percussion, Op.30 (2001)* [7:37]
Toshiro MAYUZUMI (1929–1997)
Concertino for Xylophone and Orchestra (1965) (Orchestral part arranged for Chinese orchestra by Simon Kong Su Leong) [11:04]
Yiu-Kwong CHUNG
Emperor Qin Crushing the Battle Formations for two percussionists and Chinese orchestra** (2010) [13:28]
Evelyn Glennie (percussion)
Tzu-You Lin (suona)*;
Tsung-Hsin Hsieh (percussion)**
Taipei Chinese Orchestra/En Shao, Yiu-Kwong Chung
rec. November 2010, Zhongshang Hall, Taipei City, Taiwan. DSD.
Reviewed as 24/44.1 download with pdf booklet from eclassical.com.
BIS-1599-SACD [75:10]

Samsara: Reviewing another Mayuzumi release on Naxos, the Mandala Symphony, Bugaku and other works, Gary Higginson ended with words of faint praise: ‘it can do no harm to investigate this composer who … has something to offer all listeners’. I find myself in much the same position after hearing this reissue from the enterprising Marco Polo label. All the music is interesting, but I don’t envisage returning too often, especially in the case of the opening Phonologie Symphonique, aptly described in the Naxos notes as inspired by Varèse and serial technique, neither designed to appeal to me, I fear.

Even Keith Anderson, whose notes are usually so helpful and informative, is at a loss to describe Samsara: ‘[music] of a subtlety that defies immediate expression’. I enjoyed hearing it, but the other two albums made more of an impression than this reissue.

I wish I could tell you more about the Nirvana Symphony, which caught my attention much more, but the streamed and downloaded versions – there’s no CD – come without notes even from Naxos’s own library. That I found it more interesting than the music on the new reissue is as it should be: Samsara is the Buddhist term for the world of death, rebirth, suffering and illusion, Nirvana the release from that treadmill. The Sanskrit term literally means ‘nothing’ or ‘emptiness’ but it’s a positive rather than a negative state, achieved only after lifetimes of increasing enlightenment by the Bodhisattva.

The same interest in experimenting with instrumental sound as in Samsara is to be found at the opening but Mayuzumi then introduces men’s voices chanting and this I found hypnotic, as also the following instrumental session with bell-like sounds before more chanting leads us to Nirvana. Though the influence of Western avant-garde composers is clearly to be found in both works, lovers of Debussy and Ravel will find much to tickle their palate in the symphony. Overall, however, those unfamiliar with Mayuzumi are advised to try it out before purchase, as subscribers to Naxos Music Library can do with this and other albums of his music, including the BIS.

The lack of a booklet is annoying: I’d love to know what the chorus are chanting – Sanskrit texts or is it wordless? Two things still need to be sorted in the world of downloads: price – often (much) more than the equivalent CD or SACD – and the fact that booklets are still not universally provided.

Fans of Evelyn Glennie will need no urging to obtain Ecstatic Drumbeat. We seem not to have been alone in missing this when it was released in 2012, though we did review an earlier Glennie recording, Oriental Landscapes, on BIS-CD-1222. Hubert Culot recommended that recording not just to Glennie’s many fans and the same applies to Ecstatic Drumbeat. I found the music here fascinating, but then I do enjoy Oriental-flavoured music, whether original or tailored to Western taste. Here we have the best of both worlds with the music either composed or adapted for the Chinese orchestra, of the composition of which a helpful description is offered in the booklet.

I can’t say if the arrangement or Glennie’s expertise in the solo part helped me to enjoy the Xylophone Concertino much more than Mayuzumi’s music on the two Naxos releases or if Mayuzumi himself was writing in a more immediately amenable style, but this is where I would recommend those wishing to get to know his music to start.

The original seventh-century dance music for The Emperor Qin has been preserved. It would be fascinating to hear it, but I can’t find any recording. The work which ends the BIS album is an enjoyable double concerto for percussion inspired by rather than an adaptation of the original.

There’s plenty of variety in the music on this album and all of it interested me. Performances are excellent – not just of the music specifically composed for Glennie – as is the 24-bit recording, albeit at 44.1kHz only. The eclassical.com download is also available in surround sound.

The earlier Oriental Landscapes comes on CD or as a 16-bit lossless download from eclassical.com. Having enjoyed Ecstatic Drumbeat, I listened to it and can recommend that too, but I’d go for the latter first. Indeed, that’s my first choice as an introduction to Mayuzumi and it does so as part of an attractive programme, even though it’s one that’s outside of my normal comfort zone.

Brian Wilson


 

 




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