© 2004 Lawrence Tuczynski

Title The Artistry of Akira Ifukube 8
ZYU - Akira Ifukube 90th BIRTHDAY CONCERT
CD Label King Records
CD Number KICC 469~70
Music composed by: Akira Ifukube
Music conducted by: Tetsuji Honna
Music performed by: Japan Philharmonic Orchestra
Music recorded: May 31, 2004 at Suntory Hall
Number of tracks Disc 1: 4
Disc 2 : 4
Running time Disc 1 - 44:16
Disc 2 - 50:46
Number of discs 2
Year of release/manufacture November 3, 2004


December 30, 2004 Courtesy of Sam Scali

The eighth installment of King Records' excellent "Artistry of Akira Ifukube" series breaks away from the single-disc, studio-recorded format of previous volumes to present a live concert on 2 discs - a celebration of Ifukube's 90th birthday from May 31st, 2004. The concert was performed in Suntory Hall by the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Tetsuji Honna.

Disc 1 opens with OVERTURE TO THE NATION OF PHILLIPINES (1944), a rousing, jubilant work for piano and orchestra. The piece begins with an elaborate montage of strident march themes, including segments that Ifukube would later rework in his scores for the films VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE and THE LITTLE PRINCE AND THE 8-HEADED DRAGON. After increasing in speed and intensity, the composition gives way to a slow, somber interlude of soft woodwinds, strings and piano. The pace gradually picks up with a drum roll and lively piano passage, which leads to a reprise of the staccato pattern of marches - at first alternating between quiet and more assertive phrases, but gradually increasing in volume and tempo to bring the work to an exhilarating climax.

JAPANESE RHAPSODY (1935) is one of Ifukube's earliest and most frequently-recorded works. It begins with a bittersweet Eastern melody played on solo violin, accompanied by sparse percussion and piano. This is followed by a soft, melancholy orchestral passage, which segues into the string section's reprise of the original violin melody. The second movement is far more vibrant and upbeat, beginning with a whimsical clarinet theme set to a bouncing rhythm, immediately followed by a thunderous orchestral barrage. This study in contrasts continues with an extended display of delicate, exotic melodies weaving in and out of powerful symphonic phrases, with the full orchestra finally bringing the work to a dramatic conclusion. Notably, one of the exotic themes in this movement was later reworked for the Odo Island ritual scene in the original GODZILLA.

No Ifukube concert would be complete without a performance of SYMPHONIC FANTASIA (1983), which features the maestro's most popular sci-fi film themes. Though only the first movement is presented here, it includes a generous selection of favorites, including Godzilla's theme, the main titles from the original GODZILLA and KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, a love theme from BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE, Baragon's theme from FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, the battle music from GHIDRAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER and the marches from BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS.

Disc 2 features an awe-inspiring performance of Ifukube's SYMPHONIC ODE - 'GOTAMA THE BUDDHA' (1989), a triumphant reworking of his score from the 1961 film SHAKA (aka BUDDHA in the U.S.), which was in turn derived from the maestro's 1953 ballet of the same name. The first movement begins with a solemn arrangement of mournful strings and brass, at times contemplative, with occasional passages of soft percussion that evoke the image of a funeral procession. The movement concludes with swelling strings and chiming bells, which further enhance the reverential effect.

The second part begins with a slow, ominous motif reminiscent of some of the darker passages from Ifukube's score for THE BIRTH OF JAPAN (1959). This is followed by the gradual introduction of stately string and flute melodies against a slow, ponderous rhythm. Soon the full orchestra makes a frenetic entrance with a dramatic, uptempo theme and ritualistic vocal chants similar to those heard in Ifukube's score for KING KONG VS. GODZILLA. The excitement subsides long enough for a soothing interlude featuring an angelic female chorus, but soon returns in full force, with more exotic chants and rolling percussion. The drama finally winds down for a reprise of the solemn string theme from the beginning of the first movement.

The third and final movement continues with a softer, sadder version of the string theme, which is joined by a mournful vocal chorus and chiming bells. The movement is both sad and beautiful, as the vocals and orchestra build to a majestic, heavenly crescendo. This is truly one of Ifukube's most haunting works.

The set concludes with the dynamic third movement from SYNFONIA TAPKAARA (1954 - revised 1979), another of Ifukube's popular compositions. The traditionally-flavored main theme is played by the orchestra at a rapid, staccato pace, with an emphasis on blaring horns, strident strings and pounding drums. The action soon winds down for an extended call-and-response interlude, as a series of quiet woodwind and string patterns alternate with aggressive orchestral segments. Suddenly a single violin heralds the return of the main theme, which is immediately echoed by the orchestra. The theme is repeated with increasing speed and intensity, bringing the piece to a spectacular, breathtaking conclusion.

The performances and sound quality are uniformly excellent throughout this set, and the selections are well-chosen. Overall it is a fine souvenir of the maestro's 90th Birthday Concert, as well as an impressive showcase of some of his greatest work. Like all of the volumes in the Artistry series (most of which are out of print), it is well worth picking up.


    Disc 1

  1. Overture to the Nation of Philippines (Obertura Festiva 'Sa bago Filipinas')
  2. Japanese Rhapsody

  3. I Nocturne
  4. II Fete
  5. Symphonic Fantasia No. 1

    Disc 2

    Symphonic Ode 'Gotama The Buddha'

  1. I Siddhartha in Kapilavastu
  2. II Meditation at Bodh Gaya
  3. III Ode (Acintiya Buddha)
  4. Synfonia Tapkaara 3rd. Mov. : Vivace