Canadian percussionist Ryan Scott and Toronto-based new music ensemble Esprit Orchestra, led by Alex Pauk, join forces in three works by Japanese composer Maki Ishii (1936-2003). The composer studied in Japan and in Germany (including a stint at the Darmstadt Summer School for New Music) and it's in those countries that his music remains best known, but performances like these should bring him to the attention of the larger audience he deserves. His work on a synthesis of Western classical and Eastern musical aesthetics and practices, while certainly not unique, was especially skillful, and the three pieces recorded here demonstrate a first-rate musical imagination and a keen ear for combining the sonorities of Eastern and Western traditions. Saidoki and South-Fire-Summer are concertos for percussion, and Concertante for marimba is accompanied by six percussionists. The music demonstrates the composer's gift for creating fresh timbral sonorities situated in compelling, engaging musical structures. The concertos in particular, with a full range of orchestral timbres (and volume levels) available, reveal the composer's real flair for drama. Both works rely essentially on texture rather than traditional melody and harmony to make their case, and succeed beautifully. The Concertante (written for Keiko Abe and Les Percussions de Strasbourg) is inherently more conventional because the marimba is inescapably a melodic and harmonic instrument. It may be somewhat less distinctive since works with this instrumentation are not uncommon in the world of new music for percussion, but the composer's inventive use of layers of varying textures creates memorably mysterious webs of sound. Scott and Esprit Orchestra play with exceptional sensitivity to the music's subtlety and drama. The sound of the live performances is clear, detailed, and atmospheric. Highly recommended for fans of percussion music.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins