Wednesday 13 May 2015

Noriko Ogawa brings all her exquisite sensibility, understanding, fine touch and lovely technique to works by Yoshihiro Kanno on a new release from BIS

Yoshihiro Kanno was born in Tokyo in 1953 and graduated from the Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music with a Master's Degree in 1980. In 1979, he won the Prince Pierre of Monaco Musical Composition Award for his String Quartet and, in 1994, his Les Temps de Miroirs--L'Horizontale du Vent for ryuteki, sho, and electronic music was the recommended work of International Music Council sponsored by UNESCO.

His ballet Mandala was premiered in Tokyo in 1987 and performed at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1988 before being toured in New York and Washington, D.C. in 1991. Among his recent works are Moon Phase for Gagaku orchestra, performed in Tokyo, Germany and Spain and A Lunar Note for Japanese traditional ensemble, performed in Tokyo and several cities in the United States.

Kanno's compositions are founded on Western orchestral music, Japanese traditional instruments, and computer music.

A new release from BIS Records  entitled Light, Water, Rainbow… brings together a number of works for piano and accompanying instruments dating from 1985 to 2012 performed by pianist Noriko Ogawa

Since achieving her first great success at Leeds International Piano Competition, Noriko Ogawa has worked with leading orchestras and conductors, such as Charles Dutoit, Osmo Vanska, Leonard Slatkin and Tadaaki Otaka. Ogawa is also renowned as a recitalist and chamber musician and regularly commissions new works. She has performed premieres of works by Fujikura and Kanno.

Ogawa is an exclusive recording artist for BIS Records, her discography including Takemitsu’s Riverrun (Editor's Choice - Gramophone Magazine) and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (Critics' Choice - BBC Music Magazine). Ogawa has recently concluded a complete series of Debussy recordings that has won considerable critical acclaim. She also completed recording a new Mozart disc for BIS Records in 2011.

The Remains of the Light III, Angel's Ladder for piano and computer (2006) was commissioned by the pianist Noriko Ohtake and marked the tenth anniversary of the death of Tōru Takemitsu. Angel's Ladder depicts so called crepuscular rays, rays of sunlight streaming through gaps in thick cloud.

The piece opens with an ostinato on the lower keyboard interspersed by rippling phrases higher up the keyboard. Slowly the upper phrases develop creating exquisitely delicate music to which computer generated sounds emerge creating a kind of echo over which the piano builds its line. We are told, in the composer’s excellent booklet notes, that musical ‘messages’ uttered by the piano are made to rise by means of computer processing. The piano builds in dynamics, adding little decorations as the music broadens, the lower phrases now developing against the upper line. The music gains slowly in tempo, Ogawa moving across the expanse of the keyboard to fine effect. The computer sounds return as the music slows, providing little points of sound that echo around before the piano and electronics seem to chase each other in a speedier section. Glacial, sharp sounds interact with a delicate piano theme before a more flowing, rising and falling section arrives to which the computer eventually adds a roar of sound, like the wind, increasing in power and dynamics as the piano ascends the Angel’s ladder.

This is an impressive work played quite brilliantly by Noriko Ogawa.

The Particles of Piano series consists of three pieces, A Particle of Light, A Particle of Water and A Particle of Rainbow. The pianist plays not only the piano but also the Nambu bell, a Japanese wind chime made of iron; Myochin hibachi, metal chopsticks made by the Myochin family of master swordsmiths and Kabuki Orgel, a set of metal bells of the type used in Kabuki performances. The series was commissioned by Noriko Ogawa and the MUZA Kawasaki Symphony Hall.

A Particle of Light for piano and Nambu bell (2009) imagines the moment when a light can be seen through the wind and opens with three tinkles from the Nambu bell before the piano joins tentatively with a slow, gentle rising motif with continued bell tinkles. The music very slowly develops the rising and falling motif, becoming ever more florid with Kanno developing his material impressively, creating, with apparently simple means, layers of tremendous colour and dynamics. Ogawa reveals many fine sounds through passages of more restrained, keenly felt, flowing harmonies. Later the Nambu bell can be heard tinkling again as the piano brings a little rising motif before leading to a hushed, delicate coda with the Nambu bell sounding at the end.

This is another exquisite work performed with such sensitivity by Ogawa.

A Particle of Water for piano and Myochin hibachi (2010) takes a haiku (traditional Japanese poem) by Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) that depicts a frog leaping into water with the tiny splash seeming to create an entire world. It opens with a piano theme that has distinct connections to the previous work, little insistent phrases and intervals that subtly recall Messiaen. It develops exquisitely; the Myochin hibachi soon heard adding their delicate sounds as the piano continues to weave its delicate theme. Later the music slows with more delicate sounds from the Myochin hibachi before moving through some lovely little rhythmic piano motifs. A faster moving section develops, gaining in tempo with some terrific playing from Ogawa until cut off with a piano chord dying away and the sound of the Myochin hibachi.

A Particle of Rainbow for piano and Kabuki Orgel (2011) depicts the seven colours of the rainbow. Deep piano chords open with the Kabuki Orgel gently sounding. The piano continues the deep chords before developing a passage higher on the keyboard, combining beautifully with the Kabuki Orgel. Soon the piano moves to a more settled flowing pattern, developing in richness. A florid rising and falling theme develops into a very fine, rather intoxicating theme, played wonderfully by Ogawa before slowly falling to a passage where the piano picks out the theme with the Kabuki Orgel adding its little notes. The music rises in a dramatic passage, leading to a massive falling scale for the coda.

This work makes a very fine conclusion to the Particles of Piano series.

Lunar Rainbow for piano, toy piano and computer (2012) depicts a rainbow appearing on a moonlit night, with faint light emitting pale colours, its light diffusing into darkness. It was commissioned and premiered by the pianist Noriko Ohtake. Here the pianist plays both the piano and the toy piano. The sounds of the toy piano are captured by microphone and transformed by computer, generating a layer of light that envelops the piano.

Both piano and toy piano open in a delicate passage before the piano slowly leads forward with the computer generated toy piano sounds wavering around. Slowly the music becomes more animated before quietening with the most lovely sounds from the toy piano. The music builds, in rising and falling phrases for piano, before quietening again. Later the piano gently picks over the rising and falling motif surrounded by lovely toy piano sounds, so delicate and entrancing. There is a passage for the toy piano alone before the piano boldly re-enters but the toy piano still adds its unique sound as it brings another solo passage using the rising and falling motif. Soon it slowly increases in tempo, creating a fine texture of sound before the piano re-enters in a gentler flowing passage, rising in animation to the end, where the toy piano has the last say.

Anyone put off by the idea of a toy piano used in this work will be surprised at how beautiful the computer generated toy piano sounds are. Ogawa is absolutely terrific in how she plays both instruments.

The earlier Prelude for Angel for piano (1985) was written for an experimental animated film. It opens with a simple descending series of phrases that lead to a gently flowing melody, with dissonances, yet quite beautiful. The music slowly increases in tempo then develops, becoming more agitated before slowly moving to the gentle coda.

Noriko Ogawa brings all her exquisite sensibility, understanding, fine touch and lovely technique to these beautiful works that reveal a composer with a fine ear for colour, texture and sheer beauty. Anyone who has followed the progress of music from Debussy through Messiaen and Takemitsu should find much to delight here.

BIS give Noriko Ogawa a first rate recorded sound and there are excellent, informative notes from the composer.

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