Piano Works for the Left Hand is a new release from Naxos featuring three piano suites by Japanese composer Takashi Yoshimatsu, performed by Yumiko Oshima-Ryan. The album, which is available in both digital and CD format, contains program notes by Oshima-Ryan and features fifty-one minutes of music over sixteen tracks. The three pieces, as Oshima-Ryan tells us, were written by Yoshimatsu in 2004-2006 for the pianist Izumi Tateno, who had lost the use of his right hand due to a stroke he suffered while performing at a concert in Finland. The resulting music sees Yoshimatsu drawing upon the full range of his eclectic stylistic and technical palettes to create a sensitive, sophisticated and good-humored listening experience for which the exclusion of the right hand proves no impediment whatsoever.
We begin with the Tapiola Visions in five movements. Oshima-Ryan informs us that the work's title refers to the god Tapio from Finnish mythology, and she quotes Yoshimatsu's direction that this piece 'can be played with either the left hand or both hands'. The listening experience here is vividly shaped by the programmatic movement titles: Vignette in Twilight, Gigue of Frost, Pavane for Water, Commas of Birds and Toccata in the Wind. Immediately apparent are the myriad ways in which the music maintains continuous contrast, interest and variety among multiple compositional parameters. For instance, monophonic passages are frequently varied through complex melodic development and ornamentation, or they are effectively transformed into multi-register chordal or polyphonic material through judicious use of pedaling or arpeggiations of implied underlying polyphonic textures (the latter being in a manner reminiscent of the Bach cello suites). Sometimes the timing of the damper pedal itself becomes the sole means of varying repeated material. In short, this music masterfully demonstrates the vast range of technical resources available in a one-handed piano performance.
Listen — Takashi Yoshimatsu: Vignette in Twilight (Tapiola Visions)
(8.579121 track 1, 0:00-0:30) ℗ 2022 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :
Next is the Ainola Lyrical Ballads, so named - according to Oshima-Ryan quoting Yoshimatsu - for the Finnish villa where Jean Sibelius spent his later years and whose scenery inspired the composition of the piece. The seven short movements are Romance, Arabesque, Ballad, Pavane, Mozartino, Pastoral and Carillon. Here, the sonic palettes of dynamics, tempo and articulation seem to be gradually transformed over the course of the entire suite from each movement to the next. The harmonic content showcases a seamless fusion of chromatic and modal content within neoclassical and neoromantic tonal frameworks. In addition, the music seems to employ the use of the sostenuto pedal to achieve multi-register soundscapes with one hand without the blurring effects of the damper pedal.
Listen — Takashi Yoshimatsu: Romance (Ainola Lyrical Ballads)
(8.579121 track 6, 0:00-0:30) ℗ 2022 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :
The final suite, Gauche Dances, shows Yoshimatsu's incorporation of popular styles in four illustratively titled movements: Rock, Blues, Tango and Boogie Woogie. In the percussive Rock we hear power chords in the bass interspersed with glissando effects, suggesting a fusion of influences from heavy metal, progressive rock and early rock-and-roll. In Blues we hear a true blues scale in the melody, while the harmonic structure is instead characterized by chromaticisms and extended tonality. In addition, the traditional twelve-bar blues form has been replaced with a classical ternary form. The short Tango then provides us with a strong example of Yoshimatsu's technique of melodic development over multiple registers. The suite concludes with Boogie Woogie, for which Yoshimatsu has apparently been saving his take on the twelve-bar blues form. In this movement, the standard three-chord blues progression is compellingly fused with multiple harmonic extensions from the broader classical tradition, and the textural variations are both startling and virtuosic.
Listen — Takashi Yoshimatsu: Boogie Woogie (Gauche Dances)
(8.579121 track 16, 0:00-0:30) ℗ 2022 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :
In conclusion, Piano Works for the Left Hand strikes me as an inspiring and inviting release that audibly celebrates the overcoming of obstacles both compositionally and pianistically. Not only has Yoshimatsu set the challenge for himself of composing piano music for the left hand that maintains variety in texture, timbre, register, harmony and melodic development on par with that of two-handed piano music; he has also done so in a way that preserves his distinctive take on stylistic pluralism and eclecticism in the process. In addition, Oshima-Ryan brings a remarkable clarity and precision to the performance, and her liner notes are thoughtful and informative. Lastly, this album represents, for me, a unique reflection on simultaneous dimensions of accessibility. In a stylistic sense this release is highly 'accessible', fusing attractive features of many musical cultures and traditions into a complex listening experience likely to have broad appeal to audiences of piano music. Yet this album also poses a necessary challenge for classical musicians to confront the question of 'accessibility' as it relates to the experiences of persons with disabilities. By approaching this oeuvre as music which 'can be played with either the left hand or both hands', Yoshimatsu invokes a paradigm for a world in which the conditions faced by those like Tateno would no longer serve as grounds for exclusion, either artistically or societally. I look forward to a day when accessibility, in both senses of the word, is similarly normalized within more aspects of our artistic field.
Copyright © 19 July 2022
John Dante Prevedini,