© 2004 Lawrence Tuczynski

CD Label Victor
CD Number VDC-5505
Music composed by: Akira Ifukube
Kiyoshige Koyama
Yuzo Toyama
Music performed by: Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra
Number of tracks 3
Running time 40:05
Number of discs 1
Year of release/manufacture 10/21/1987


January 26, 2004 - Review by Sam Scali

The CONTEMPORARY MUSIC OF JAPAN series, showcasing the works of various Japanese composers, was originally released on vinyl in the 70's and 80's, and made its first CD appearance in 1990. This volume features an excellent selection of orchestral compositions, including a piece by Godzilla maestro Akira Ifukube.

As on Volume 3 (VDC-5503), the disc starts off with a work by Ifukube, RITMICA OSTINATA FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA (1961). The piece begins with the distant call of a French horn, followed by a series of increasingly insistent, staccato piano lines that are soon joined by an equally frenetic orchestral response. When the madness dies down, there is a somber interlude featuring flute and slightly dissonant piano melodies against a dark backing of woodwinds and horns. This is followed by a slow, sad string passage, the kind found in many of Ifukube's film scores (particularly his end titles). The dissonant piano and high-pitched flute soon return to bring the sequence to a dramatic, dirge-like end. Then, out of the ashes comes a brief piano solo that quickly leads to an energetic resurgence of the earlier interplay between the piano and orchestra. This rhythmic call-and-response builds to a dramatic crescendo, again slowing down for a few introspective moments - but this time the break is considerably less dark, and is even playful at times, hinting at brighter things ahead. Before long the piano reappears and quickly speeds up, joined once again by the full orchestra, heralding a return to glorious rhythmic heights and bringing the work to a dizzying, spectacular conclusion. This is truly one of Ifukube's most uplifting compositions, and it is given a fine, dramatic reading here. A live recording of this piece appears on another CD on this site, FOCD-3143 (later reissued as FOCD-9087).

The next piece, KOBIKI-UTA FOR ORCHESTRA (1957), by Kiyoshige Koyama, is an impressionistic work consisting of several parts. It starts slowly, with discordant textures and a sad, solo violin melody. This is followed by a traditional-sounding interlude featuring ethnic percussion, a penny whistle or ocarina, and an orchestral conclusion. The next part features bells, tuned percussion and flute, weaving a traditional melody that is further developed by the orchestra. Next comes a louder, more rhythmic segment consisting mainly of horns, strings and percussion, again joined by the full orchestra. The piece ends with a traditional melody followed by a majestic finale and a short, low coda of woodwind and strings.

The final work, Yuzo Toyama's RHAPSODY FOR ORCHESTRA (1960), begins with rapid percussive sounds, followed by playful, traditional melodies and an odd-sounding juxtaposition of the full orchestra behind a single chiming bell. Next, a penny whistle and sleigh bells usher in a delicate flute passage, mildly underscored by strings, and leading into another percussive break that combines with the orchestra in an exciting, uptempo finale of traditional themes.

Like other volumes in the series, this CD is now very hard to find - it was reissued with a different cover in 1995 (VICC-23010), but unfortunately that edition is also out of print. Hopefully these excellent recordings will surface again on a future release.


    Akira Ifukube

  1. Ritmica Ostinata For Piano And Orchestra (1961)[21:20]
    Hitoshi Kobayashi, piano
    Hiroshi Wakasugi, conductor
  2. Kiyoshige Koyama

  3. Kobiki-Uta For Orchestra (1957)[11:12]
    Yuzo Toyama, conductor
  4. Yuzo Toyama

  5. Rhapsody For Orchestra (1960)[7:29]
    Yukinori Tezuka, conductor