During the Tokugawa period of Japanese history (1600-1868), the shoguns of the Tokugawa family ruled the country from their castle in Edo, present day Tokyo. The families of the military and merchant classes sponsored artists and musicians in Edo and encouraged them to travel throughout the country spreading art and culture. The style of koto playing that arose from the Tokugawa period is known as the Ikuta School after a master koto player of the day, Kengyo Ikuta.
Koto master Nanae Yosmimura chose five representative Ikuta koto pieces for this CD. "Rokudan" is a six-minute instrumental piece in six sections (dan). The piece is simple and symmetrical. It achieves its main tension during an increase in tempo that occurs in the fourth section. "Midare," another instrumental piece, is an expansion of a popular 17th century tune. Tension is achieved by slight modulations in the main theme from section to section. "Zangetsu," a 17 minute vocal and koto masterpiece of the classical repertoire, is often performed at memorial services. The CD's excellent liner notes provide a Japanese transliteration, a translation and an explanation of how the koto part underscores the mood of the text. "Godan-ginuta" is a five-section instrumental piece for two koto. This is a particularly sophisticated piece in which the pitch of a number of strings of the lower koto is altered partway through the third section and then returned to the original before a virtuoso climax in the last section.
"Chidori" is a vocal and koto number. The text, which dates back to the 10th century, sings the praises of an ancient lord of Shionoyama.
This CD is the first of a projected three volume series of the classical koto repertoire. Although this writer is not an expert, the repertoire selection, playing and detailed liner notes are impressive. A high recommendation for all those who are interested in Japanese classical music. -Aaron Howard
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