Hana wa saku 'Flowers will Bloom': Japanese Songs

My introduction to the delights of Japanese song happened during my first visit to Japan in 1991.  I learnt Karatachi no hana  (Quince flower) by Kohsaku Yamada as an encore piece, after I was invited to give a couple of small concerts in Kyushu and Tokyo.  The delighted reaction that I got from the audience, because I had gone to the trouble of learning one of their best-known songs in their language, was heart-warming.  As such it led me to undertake further exploration of this repertoire, which comprises songs set in a Western-style manner using their most famous poems. This meant I discovered the joys of kakyoku – their version of art song and of dou-you – a kind of traditional song.  I know that the wonderful orchestration created for these songs, which were originally written with piano accompaniment, lifts them to a whole new level and as such, I hope that they will appeal to a much wider audience.

Charlotte de Rothschild



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The title means Flowers will bloom. The original spark came as a result of Charlotte de Rothschild's first visit to Japan in 1991. She had learnt the song Quince Flower as an encore and sang it in Japanese. Such was the welcome she received that her interest deepened into both kakyoku (art songs) and dou-you (traditional songs). Ms de Rothschild points out that in Japan the poet is more important than the composer and is always listed first. However she also states that the music of classical composers such as Ikuma Dan, Kozaburo Hirai, Kohsaku Yamada and Yoshinao Nakata merit greater exposure.

The booklet is nicely done and notes that the orchestrations are variously by David Matthews (eight songs), Stuart Calvert and Yui Kakinuma. These orchestrations should help the songs travel. The intended reception for this disc is indicated by the fact that the liner-notes are in English and in Japanese characters. The sung words are also given in full, in Japanese characters (Kana) and with detailed thoughtful synoptic translations into English by the singer.

The Spring Songs are sweetly rocking and sentimental, often slow and very beautiful. They end with a fine example looking forward to a full and voluptuous harvest. Chin chin chidori (Little plovers) mines a vein of sweetness discovered in sorrow. Sakura yoko cho (tr. 11) hymns the cherry trees fully laden with blossom which in turn call to mind memories of lost lovers and friends. Hana wa saku (Flowers will bloom) is very recent in origin. It's a song of hope and remembrance written in the wake of the March 2011 tsunami: the flowers bloom for those many who died and those yet to be born.

The orchestra is the City of London Sinfonia, graciously directed by the clarinettist Michael Collins. This is a project well put together and carried through with polish, taste and freshness.

Rob Barnett, MusicWeb-International

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