Notes and Editorial Reviews
As if to underline the universal power of art music, a lack of knowledge of the language is no impediment to being moved by this lovely recital of Japanese songs from the 19th and 20th centuries. It’s by the experienced English soprano Charlotte de Rothschild and Japanese pianist Masahiro Saitoh.
Their programme is divided into four sections of six or five songs, one for each season of the year - albeit the groupings seem rather tenuous at times. Rothschild - probably the only soprano ever to have a rhododendron named after her - begins with 'Autumn', a selection characterised by a suitably reflective, 'setting sun' mood. The listener will be struck immediately by the European diatonic nature of the music, and the folk-like intimacy of the majority of songs, which are straightforward and strophic. There are one or two more upbeat items in 'Spring' and 'Summer', but on the whole emotional differentiation is insignificant. The quality is one of wistfulness, oddly reminiscent of Scottish or Irish ballads, which translates into a feeling of subtle depth and sometimes heart-rending beauty. The last song on the disc, the unlikely-sounding 'Coconuts', is a gorgeous specimen. The poems themselves are of a fundamentally Romantic ilk, concerning eternal themes like nature, unrequited love, homesickness and the happy past. Many Japanese songs, in fact, are predominantly gentle, reflecting the culture of politeness and privacy that has long dominated Japanese society.
Rothschild has an attractive voice. In her mid-forties when these recordings were made, she may well be at the height of her powers, possessing great control over range, dynamics and above all emotion. Native reviews of this recording indicate that Rothschild's Japanese pronunciation is very good, ditto her understanding of the Japanese psyche - to her credit, she has spent a good amount of time in Japan, touring again indeed in 2011 and 2012. Within the parameters set by the composers, Masahiro Saitoh's piano playing is marvellously expressive, with an impressive attention to fine shadings.
The booklet has notes, biographies and song texts in both English and Japanese (kanji and kana), with translations by Rothschild herself. The poet's name is given in each case. The only real omission is information about the various composers.
- Byzantion, MusicWeb Internatioanl