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Joseph Stevenson, August 2006

Among the more fascinating things about this program of orchestral works is the sheer diversity of styles used by Japanese composer Toshiro Mayuzumi (1929-1997). The four compositions span only 14 years but they show an aurally adventurous young composer (he was between 19 and 33 years old when he wrote them), rapidly growing in skills and self-assurance while restlessly shifting styles. Just to consider the two mature works--Mandala-Symphony (1960) and Bugaku (1962)--you can readily hear chords and rhythms evoking Stravinsky and Varèse, clouds of string portamentos recalling Ligeti and Xenakis, Webernesque serial-sounding pointillism, and deliberate influences from classic imperial court music and Buddhist chant. Yet it all merges as in a musical melting pot and becomes a unique personal style. These two compositions are first-rate works, avant-garde in some respects but successfully designed to grip the listener's attention.

The other two works are student pieces. Symphonic Mood (1950) is a worthy if texturally simple work that's also adorned by multiple styles. It starts quietly, establishes a rhumba rhythm, then incongruously lays Balinese gamelan figurations on top of that. (The Imperial government until 1945 banned European and North American music, letting South American music in along with that of other Asian traditions.) Mayuzumi was trying to be exotic and used what he knew, and somehow Symphonic Mood makes a virtue out of this musical mismatch.

On the other hand, Rhumba Rhapsody is sheer juvenilia--poorly shaped and of interest only to show how a composer can rescue good ideas from a bad composition, since the second movement of Symphonic Mood retools material from it. Mayuzumi's progress is even more striking when you recall that during this same period he became Japan's first and leading electronic music composer.

One aspect of Mayuzumi's voice holds steady: His music is dynamic and rhythmically powerful at all tempos. Happily, conductor Takuo Yuasa conveys this vital dimension clearly in a performance showing that the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra deserves a high international reputation. The sound is also excellent. Mandala and Bugaku, if mated with works of equal value and with the same technical achievements, would rate a 10/10. Now can we ask someone for a good multi-channel recording of Mayuzumi's masterwork, the Nirvana-Symphony?

Fanfare, May 2006

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Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, February 2006

Anyone hearing this disc would have to conclude that Toshiro Mayuzumi was certainly among the most accomplished of modern day, Japanese composers. The four works included here display different facets of his creative output. "Bogaku" was commissioned by the New York City Ballet and is based on ancient Japanese imperial dances. Anyone who remembers the old Denon LP of this will recall that it's extremely powerful music, masterfully orchestrated and an audiophile's dream come true, if properly recorded, as it is here. Batten down your speakers! The "Mandala Symphony" was inspired by Buddhist teaching and certainly sounds Japanese. Its two movements represent the descent of Buddha to enlighten man and man's ascent to seek enlightenment. They're joined musically through two "hexatone" rows based on the overtones of bells found in Japanese, Buddhist temples. Again, the orchestration is simply amazing and the sonic effect, dramatically overpowering. The program also includes two much earlier works, both of which are indicative of the composer's early preoccupation with French impressionism. They also show Latin American as well as Southeast Asian influences, which were acquired during the World War II years, but the lion's claws of Mayuzumi's dynamism show through in a number of places. "Symphonic Mood" was described by the composer as a musical expression of nostalgia, while the "Rhumba Rhapsody," which receives its premiere performance here, was in some ways an early sketch for the second half of the former. If you like this music, by all means investigate that of Toshiro's teachers, Kunihiko Hashimoto and Akira Ifukube.

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