Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 1. Symphony No. 2
To the Night of Gethsemane
Takuo Yuasa, cond;
Ikuyo Kamiya (pn); RTE Natl SO
NAXOS 8.570337 (60:50)
The child of kimono merchants, Japanese composer Teizo Matsumura (1929–2007) was inspired to become a composer by recordings of Western classical music he heard on the radio. Despite the many difficulties of such study in postwar Tokyo, he
explored the music of the European masters with Japanese teachers who had studied abroad in France and Russia. His earliest works, created under the tutelage of Tomojiro Ikenouchi, were influenced by the music of Ravel and Stravinsky. It was, however, the encouragement of his Russian-trained teacher Akira Ifukube to explore non-European music that eventually led to Matsumura finding his own voice by assimilating the highly percussive primitive music of Japan and elements of other Asian traditions. In 1959, he began writing for film and stage—eventually creating more than 100 works for film and 50 for the stage—in order to sharpen his dramatic sensibilities. The 1965 Symphony No. 1 was one of a number of concert works created at that time that benefited from his formidable sense of narrative and the increasing cinematic power of his writing.
While the Symphony No. 1 is presented in a classical three-movement form, the composer rejects the Western dialectic methods of developing musical ideas, as well as more modern serial and post-serial techniques. Instead, he uses an essentially tonal organic thematic development technique, derived in part from his writing for film, which begins with a visual image and a single musical idea. For the symphony, the image was of a vast swarm of locusts sweeping across the earth. The work begins with a massive statement of that idea, with a great alarm of bells and an immense buzzing from the strings as the power of the scourge is made aurally manifest. Over the 12-minute span of the Andante movement, the transformations, with brass-led climaxes, and accompanied and connected by a Stravinsky-inspired percussive ostinato, become overwhelming in their cumulative effect before dissolving into emotional exhaustion. The Adagio movement uses the same raw material to create an aural landscape of stark devastation, while the Allegro finale suggests initial hope, followed by variations both menacing and anticipatory, before leaving on a powerful climax that is emotionally ambivalent. It is a gripping piece throughout, with an almost Brucknerian architectural grandeur.
The Symphony No. 2 (1999) followed 34 years later, near the end of the composer’s creative life. This is the premiere recording, based on the composer’s manuscript incorporating the revisions he made in 2006, the year before he died. This is a more contemplative work than the highly dramatic First, and is written in three slow movements for orchestra with a prominent obbligato piano. Over time, Matsumura had begun to re-integrate Western approaches to harmonic progression into his works. The visual referent was a poster of temple statues of two grim, muscular sumo-wrestler-like figures who represent the beginning and the end of the universe. Indeed, the first two movements of the work do seem to reflect on the infinite, and respectively on light and darkness. The short final movement offers an apotheosis of brass and percussion.
To the Night of Gethsemane
(2002) was Matsumura’s final orchestral work: a reflection on Giotto di Bondone’s
The Kiss of Judas
. In this luminous work, the aging composer seems to have returned to the more primitive transformational language and ostinatos of his early non-Western style, but with overlays of instrumental solo melodies of great emotional power. Still, it is the cumulative effect of the work’s almost 14-minute span that is most potent, the tone poem responding to both the brilliant color and compositional tension of the early Renaissance painter’s magnificent fresco, and to the act of betrayal it portrays.
Although some recordings of Matsumura’s music have been available for many years on the Camerata (Tokyo) label—the First Symphony was reviewed by Art Lange in
20:5—they have not always been readily available in the United States. This Naxos Japanese Classics release makes it possible to experience this little-known master’s music at little cost or bother. As has been the case in several earlier releases in this series, Takuo Yuasa—who studied with Hans Swarowsky, Igor Markevitch, and Franco Ferrara, and was an assistant to Lovro von Mata?i?—proves an inspired interpreter of his compatriot’s music. The RTE National Symphony Orchestra performs with skill and conviction, and pianist Ikuyo Kamiya plays the crucial but understated piano part in the Second Symphony with sensitivity.
FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 1 by Teizo Matsumura
RTE National Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1965; Japan
Symphony no 2 by Teizo Matsumura
Ikuyo Kamiya (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
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