|1 ||Marimba Spiritual - Minoru Miki (b.1930) ||[14.43] |
|2 ||Dream of the Cherry Blossoms - Keiko Abe (b.1937) ||[5.31] |
|3 ||Rain Tree - Toru Takemitsu (b.1930) ||[14.30] |
|4 ||Time for Marimba - Minoru Miki (b.1930) ||[9.57] |
|5 ||Divertimento - Akira Yuyama (b.1932) ||[14.46] |
|6 & 7 ||Two movements for Marimba - Toshimitsu Tanaka (b.1927) ||[10.09] |
| || |
|Total running time: || [69.35] |
The marimba, the deeper sounding brother of the xylophone, has its origins in Africa. By way of South America, it has developed into the modern western instrument we know today. Since the second world war it has developed a certain pre-eminence amongst the percussion resources from which contemporary composers can draw. Milhaud’s 1947 Concerto for Marimba and Vibraphone, one of the first works to demand of the player the now familiar four hammer technique, is a pivotal work in this respect. That this should be so even in Japan is perhaps surprising given that Japanese music does not embrace tuned percussion.
Japan has a strong drumming tradition. Other indigenous percussion instruments are limited to bells, cymbals and rattles of various sorts. Japan was largely isolated from international influences until the establishment in 1868 of constitutional monarchy under the Meiji restoration opened up the country to the outside world, including that of western art music. Yet in the very post-war period which has seen the marimba’s ascendance, Japanese composers have tended to look away from the west and towards their traditional music and its instruments for their inspiration and means of expression.
All these factors seem to coalesce in Minoru Miki’s Marimba Spiritual. The work was written in 1983-4 and was a response to the tragedy of famine in Africa, the choice of the marimba therefore bringing an extra resonance to the work. Miki (b.1930) was trained in the western tradition, his early works mainly written for full orchestra. But his formation in 1964 of the Ensemble Nipponia (Nihan Ongaku Shudan), a group of composers and instrumentalists dedicated to utilizing native Japanese forces, marked a turning-point – his style thereafter owed less to the European tradition but derived more from that of his homeland. In Marimba Spiritual, the virtuoso marimba part is supported by three percussionists producing timbres more associated with Japanese culture. They play in turn metallic instruments, wooden instruments and drums (the use of traditional instruments being indicated, certainly in this last group).
The piece is in two parts. The first is a meditative ‘static requiem’. The second, a strongly rhythmic and energetic ‘lively resurrection’. The first part is sub-divided into two. The first of these sections gives the main rhythmic and thematic interest to the marimba whose part keeps returning to the very opening motif while the metallic percussion provides either glittering punctuation flourishes or delicate background. In the second section it is now the percussion on wooden instruments which are more to the fore, the marimba allotted a few telling declamations in the midst of its supporting harmonies. The second half of the piece is driven by the drums which provide a bedrock of ever-changing rhythmic motifs. These patterns are taking from the festive drumming of the chichibu area northwest of Tokyo and come into their own in a rousing central episode for the drums alone. Anyone who has heard the celebrated Japanese drumming group ‘Kodo’ will recognize the work’s debt to traditional forms and styles, particularly when the percussionists are instructed to shout out. The marimba returns with a sort of varied recapitulation of its previous material and progresses to a thrilling ending.
Marimba Spiritual was written for the virtuoso marimba player Keiko Abe (b.1937) who gave the premiere and has herself recorded this piece and some of the others on this disc. Her own Dream of the Cherry Blossoms is in its very title redolent of the Japanese countryside and was inspired by one of her annual springtime trips to see the blossoms. “I was standing once beneath a cherry tree whose blossoms were past their prime when the petals began to scatter … enveloping me in a blizzard of blossoms.”
This magical experience transported her far away from the real world into ‘one of beautiful, fantastic and mysterious tranquility’. At the same time the Japanese song Sakura, sakura came into her mind and as well as reflecting her feelings, the piece is based on an improvisation on this song. Gentle repeated notes open the work and the song gradually emerges. The delicate melody is certainly the focus of the first part of the piece before a central more idiosyncratic episode framing a cadenza-like passage succeeds it. There is then a greater emphasis on rhythm, the song nonetheless providing the thematic basis and the work closes with the haunting repeated notes returning and fading away.
Toru Takemitsu, like his exact contemporary Miki, was a composer who set out to write on European lines, including avant-garde electronics, but who had also composed for traditional Japanese instruments, even combining them with western orchestral forces. But as a largely self-taught composer, both western and specifically Japanese influences are more incidental, Takemitsu having evolved a highly individualistic style. Rain Tree is the second of a sequence of four pieces collectively entitled Waterscape. Garden Rain for brass ensemble had been written in 1974 and the two orchestral works, Rain Coming and Rain Spell followed in 1982. Rain Tree takes its title from a novel by the acclaimed writer Kenzaburo Oe, The Ingenious Rain Tree (Atama no li Ame no Ki): ‘The tree is called the Rain Tree because its lush foliage still sprinkles the previous night’s drops of rain onto the ground in the following afternoon’.
Takemitsu’s piece for two marimbas and vibraphone, with all three players doubling up on crotales, depicts those drops with great precision. The first intermittent droplets falling in the crotales soon become a cascade, the two marimbas moving in and out of phase while the vibraphone provides a rhythmic and harmonic foundation. This is the most experimental of the works on the disc, not only in its harmonic language, organic form, occasional passages incorporating limited improvisation and lack of any sense of forward momentum, but also in the atmospheric lighting effects suggested in the score. In the latter half of the piece the stored up raindrops fall in bursts of greater force and then in a more constant shower before gradually falling off, leaving stillness and peace.
Miki’s Time for Marimba (Marimba no toki) was written in 1968, the first of his works for the instrument and an influential one in extending the technical demands made of the marimba player. Whereas Marimba Spiritual owes much to his Japanese heritage, Time for Marimba explores some of the characteristics of the gamelan tradition of Java and Bali, but in a more chromatic, pungent harmonic language than the pentatonic effects usually associated with such musical evocations. It is the rapid articulation and subtle shifts of rhythm and melodic pattern of the gamelan style which provides the impetus in the intricate opening passage (which is repeated later), and in an even more dynamic section which follows. But if time passes by it can also stand still and between these three passages of motion there are static episodes, the purely percussive potential of the instrument being exploited in sudden violent outbursts, the more mysterious timbres it can produce in eerie soft tremolos. The work was also dedicated to Keiko Abe.
Of all the works on this CD, Akira Yuyama’s Divertimento for marimba and alto saxophone is the most obviously indebted to the west, the very sound of the saxophone having in itself so many associations. Additionally, this is the most harmonically conventional piece on the disc, its idiom hardly exceptional for the turn of the twentieth century let alone for 71 years later when it was actually composed. Yet, the combination of the two instruments is certainly novel and is both exotic and engaging. A slow introduction sets almost nostalgic chords against an expressive line for the saxophone alone. The music gathers momentum to lead into a jaunty Allegro moderato with jazzy rhythms and inflections of melody and harmony which somehow would not be out of place in a work by a French composer. The music of the introduction intervenes, the saxophone’s musings this time accompanied throughout. A greatly shortened recapitulation of the Allegro follows, culminating in cadenzas for marimba and then saxophone, before an energetic coda ends the piece with the same lightness of touch which has been demonstrated to such pleasing effect throughout.
Toshimitsu Tanaka (the third composer represented here of 1930 vintage) composed Two Movements for Marimba in 1965 and with it won a prize at the 1968 National Arts Festival for the Centenary of the Meiji period, and the Supreme Prize at the 1969 Japanese National Arts Festival. It is a showpiece, exploiting many of the technical aspects of marimba playing that had developed in the post-war period (and which of course have been encountered elsewhere on this disc). The first of the two movements is driven along by a relentless rhythmic energy, time signatures changing with nearly every bar. The second is divided into two, an otherworldly and mysterious chordal opening followed by a frenzied second half underpinned by insistent repeated semi-quavers. The chords and final lively outburst provide a memorable postscript.
Daniella Ganeva is considered to be one of the finest marimba artists of our time. Born in Bulgaria, Daniella began her percussion studies at the age of eleven and has 'clocked up' many wonderful achievements during her career. Her work in the UK and beyond has earned her a great deal of respect from audiences and percussionists worldwide, and extraordinary critical acclaim. Whether performing in the concert hall or gracing the airwaves, Daniella delights audiences with her passionate and energetic style. "This is an instrument with a huge dynamic range" says Daniella, "and one that can sing with the beauty and innocence of a child or with the aggression of a rock band!" In addition to her busy performing career, Daniella is regularly in the recording studio. Of the various recordings she has been involved with it is her solo albums that have been extraordinarily successful across the world. This album is no exception as the performances here are regarded by many to be amongst the finest of this repertoire yet available. Indeed, some consider them to have set a standard with which all others