Elizabeth Falconer

Isshin Emerging: Music for Japanese Koto

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Consisting primarily of contemporary compositions for the koto from the woman who is arguably the greatest American exponent of the instrument, this album opens with a work composed by Elizabeth Falconer in 1989, which is one of the only American compositions for koto sold in Japan. There is a trio of movements on joy from Sawai Tadao, the master of the Sawai Koto School (where Falconer had the bulk of her training). Five movements on the colors of autumn are provided by Nagasawa Katsutoshi, except for the 20-string koto (the usual koto has 13), which puts out a sound similar to the Western harp in many respects, due in large part to a non-standard tuning. Two pieces follow from composer Miki Minoru, one of the creators of the 20-stringed instrument (although Falconer switches back to the regular 13-string for the performance), and a work from British composer Robin Williamson for the bass koto continues the string of innovative pieces. The thicker strings of the instrument create a richer sound, though held to the lower register. Two pieces from Yuize Shin'ichi incorporate concepts from Middle Eastern music, and the album ends on a trio of movements from Chiisana Haru's energetic Touch of Spring. Falconer provides some outstanding performance throughout the album, although the recording quality dips now and then. For koto music from non-Japanese performers, this is most definitely the way to go. For the full picture of the genre, however, this album should be supplemented with recordings of the older masters, as well.

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