In many ways this is a difficult disc to evaluate: The music is good, if light and indebted to numerous influences, and the performances and sound are quite fine. But the final verdict hinges on whether you are willing to listen to a conflation of styles in a decidedly conservative expressive language. Though these works all date from 1912 and 1913, they look backward to the turn-of-the-century music of the post-Romantics in Western Europe. Kôsçak (Kôsaku) Yamada (1886-1965) was a Japanese composer who studied in Berlin and was later instrumental in the introduction of the Western serious music in Japan.
His brief Overture in D Major is bright and festive, but a comparative trifle here. The thirty-six minute Symphony, obviously the main course on the CD, is quite light and sounds like a mixture of Mendelssohn and Elgar. Still, for all its derivative qualities, it's quite good and features several catchy themes.
As for the two symphonic poems on this disc, the first, The Dark Gate, was inspired by a poem by Japanese poet Rofu Miki. The piece is sterner and darker than the Symphony, but recalls the brooding manner of Rachmaninoff while often featuring the orchestrational style of Richard Strauss. The other one, Madara No Hana, also inspired by a Japanese poem, this one by Kazo Saito, is similar in spirit to The Dark Gate.
In sum, this disc contains about an hour's worth of well-crafted though not particularly distinctive music that exhibits virtually nothing that is recognizable as Japanese or Asian. Still, it's eminently worth Naxos' modest asking price, and many listeners will find it thoroughly enjoyable.
Copyright © 2004, Robert Cummings