Speaking of delights that seem to come unexpectedly, Kaori Muraji is a young, virtuoso-grade classical guitarist who has recorded prolifically for JVC Victor in her native Japan. Transformations is apparently Muraji's first release targeted to the West. Yet from all appearances, this is a major entry in the crossover sweepstakes and a welcome one, and the ramifications of what it represents may be with us for a long time. The title is Transformations, but the album is not a Gunther Schuller-ish exercise in "third-streaming," rather most of these works represent a transformation to the idiom of classical acoustic guitar of something from another medium. Guitarist Dominic Miller assists Muraji in numbers that call for two guitarists; otherwise this Super Audio CD is all Muraji, is played well, is very musical, and is presented in terrific, lifelike sound.
The central thrust behind the program is inspired by Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu and his approach to transcription, which he applied toward the Beatles, pop standards, and folk songs and the like, going well beyond the standard set by many Asian classical composers in primarily transcribing Chinese and Japanese traditional melodies.
His happy, sensitive transcriptions of Beatles standards constitute a strong part of what might be seen as potential mass appeal in this package, but Takemitsu alters the melodies somewhat, so humming along will not be an easy option. However, the transcriptions are to make one open up their ears and listen, much as in the effect of the quiet and subterraneous turbulence in Takemitsu's original work All in Twilight. The Greek dances utilized in Mikis Theodorakis' Epitaphios have a strong Renaissance basse dance feel, and Peter Maxwell Davies' Farewell to Stromness is tied to a melodious Scottish folk element, rather unlike his tougher, longer form pieces. As the London Symphony Orchestra's excellent EMI release Fortress has already shown, the music of Gordon Sumner (aka Sting from the Police) adapts exceptionally well to a classical setting, and Transformations concludes with two very nice transcriptions of his pieces. Transformations, for once, is a crossover disc that, rather than calling attention to how easily pop music can be reinvented as "classical," demonstrates how popular music in itself is largely a "transformation" of classical music.