Review of Japanise Guitar Music 3 by Shin-ichi Fukuda and Yasuo Watani, Naxos Records, 2017
Shin-ichi Fukuda was born in 1955 in Osaka, hestarted playing the classical guitar at the age of eleven under Tatsuya Saitoh (1942–2006). In 1977 he moved to Paris and continued his music training at the Ecole Normale de la Musique, under Alberto Ponce, continuing his studies at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena with a scholarship, under Oscar Ghiglia from 1980 to 1984. After obtaining diplomas in Paris and Siena, Fukuda was awarded many important competition prizes, including first prize in the 23rd Paris International Guitar Competition, organized by Radio France.
In this “Japanese Guitar Music – Volume 3” of this admired series we can reveal the expressive nature of both the guitar and the harmonica in the creativity of Japanese composers. Some compositions frequently represent the principles of Ma, an everyday word from Japanese indicating space and time. This is the first record of contemporary music where I have found the combination of harmonica and guitar, a duo that provides an amazing combination of traditional Japanese musical qualities and contemporary expressiveness.
The cd shows 14 tracks with 12 different compositions and it starts with Toru Takemitsu, regarded by many in both the west and the east as the greatest Japanese composer of the twentieth century. Takemitsu made arrangements of twelve songs (1974–1977), including Summertime (1977), Secret Love (1977) and Over the Rainbow (1974). All the songs were given contemporary transcriptions of extraordinary originality and often with a touch of humour. Takemitsu remarked that to play these pieces may demand high virtuosity as well as a measure of ‘flexible spirituality’.
Hikaru Hayashi, born in Tokyo, studied composition with Tomojiro Ikenouchi (1906–1991) at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music 1951–1953. Naked Island (1960), a film written and directed by Kaneto Shindo, for which Hayashi wrote the music, concerns a family with two sons on an island in the Seto Inland Sea. Their conditions of living are primitive. When the boys catch a large fish, the family travel by ferry to the nearest town to sell it to a fishmonger. On returning home they discover their elder son has fallen ill and he dies soon after. Following the funeral, they return to their life of hard work and privation. The film, in black and white is significant for its lack of dialogue.
In the guitar solo arrangement, the poignant theme sounds totally idiomatic for the instrument. The melody is played later in the piece on the lower strings, creating a cello-like effect. In the next arrangement the wonderful harmonica of Yasuo Watani takes over the tunes with guitar accompaniment. Later in the piece the guitarist performs the melody in fine contrasting colours. This arrangement was by Daisuke Suzuki (b. 1970), a former student of Shinichi Fukuda. The solo guitar version was published by Gendai Guitar (2015), while the duo transcription for harmonica and guitar was commissioned by Shin-ichi Fukuda for this recording.
Song Book for harmonica and guitar once again demonstrates Hikaru Hayashi’s melodic inventiveness. For various episodes the harmonica performs solo cadenza-like passages before the slightly abrasive entry of the guitar. The two instruments then blend in extended dialogue, the pace increasing in an impressive finale with the tension steadily rising. This work was written for the duo of Joe Sakimoto (harmonica) and Mikio Hoshido (guitar) in 1985.
Hamon (Ripple on the Water) gradually builds in intensity with cryptic expressive phrases and meaningful silences. The guitarist displays many idiomatic techniques of the instrument such as variations in tone colour, acerbic ponticello notes, and liquid sonorities in the upper register. Both Song Book and Hamon are played from the original manuscript and are not yet published.
Yoichi Togawa, born in Kyoto, graduated from the Music Department at Kyoto City University of Fine Arts and Music. In Tamayura (Fleeting Moment) the harmonica begins with an extended solo, setting the mood in short melodic snatches. The guitar enters with arpeggiated passages before embarking on its own solo. This evolves into a lively conversation between harmonica and guitar, the latter providing at one point repeated notes in the bass with an almost orchestral texture. A calmer passage offers the two instruments alternating prior to a meditative duo. The guitar has the last word with haunting harmonics. The composition was written for Yasuo Watani and Sin-ichi Fukuda and premiered in 1994.
Michio Kitazume comes from a musical family, his father being the clarinettist Risei Kitazume (1919–2004) and his sister the composer Yayoi Kitazume. He first studied composition, piano and conducting at the Tokyo University of the Arts and later in Paris. Orasho, dedicated to Shin-ichi Fukuda, uses a number of characteristic guitar effects such as tremolo and harmonics to create its delicately atmospheric web.
Jun-ichi Nihashi studied at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and later at the Paris Conservatoire with Olivier Messiaen. He has been awarded a number of prestigious composition awards and has written operas, orchestral music, and pieces for mandolin ensemble and guitar.
Autumn is an ambiguous season in eastern and western cultures, mixing ripe mellowness with regret that summer is past. Autumn Song, dedicated to Watani and Fukuda, expresses both aspects of that time of year. After a gentle opening, the work develops into a lively dance before reverting to the earlier mood. The ending is appropriately meditative.
Takashi Yoshimatsu is considered to be one of Japan’s most eminent composers in the western style. He studied at Keio University but left to become keyboard player in a rock band. He wrote serial music at first but later composed in a neo-romantic style. He has written symphonies and concertos, pieces for string orchestra, works for traditional Japanese instruments, and piano compositions as well as guitar music.
Yoshimatsu’s Forgetful Angel II is a major work exploring sound qualities such as ‘blue’ notes in harmonica and guitar. The guitar part features lyrical elements as well as sudden brusque moments, complete with strumming, ‘bent’ notes, harmonics, and also rhapsodic moments. The second part begins with harmonics followed by a harsh crescendo from the harmonica, the mood becoming abrupt and anguished. In the second movement Yasuo Watani plays two small bells while Shin-ichi Fukuda activates the wind chimes while playing the guitar.
Velvet Waltz gives the harmonica freedom to indulge in a memorable quasi-Parisian melody, with the guitar offering persuasive accompaniment.
Minoru Miki, born in Tokushima, Japan in 1930, graduated in music from the Tokyo University of the Arts (formerly the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music) in 1955. In the Realm of the Senses was a French-Japanese art film directed by Nagisa Oshima. The film is about an intense sexual relationship between a hotel owner, Kichizo Ishida and a former prostitute, Sada Abe. They become madly obsessive to the point where Sada strangles Ishida while making love and she mutilates his body. The film was subsequently extensively censored or banned in a number of countries. The musical theme of the film begins in this arrangement with the guitar imitating the koto, the Japanese traditional long zither, before embarking on the intricacies of this evocative and passionate melody. In the early 1980s Leo Brouwer prepared his arrangement from the original koto score, which Shin-ichi Fukuda edited for publication by Gendai Guitar.