Rika Zayasu plays Debussy and Takemitsu – CR6003


“These pieces are evocative and ethereal, their transcendental nature emphasised through the precise use of pedals, and the pianist’s ability to allow sounds to resonate and ring, or fade to nothing, which create an exquisite sense of stillness”

An impressive record, with some of the finest piano tones on disc I have ever heard. The playing of this gifted artist is of high quality throughout, the Claudio Q-Lab Sound being stunningly lifelike. All in all, here is an exceptional disc; the repertoire selected is equally intelligent and compelling

SKU: 6003 Categories: , ,


Claude Debussy

Images oubliees (1894); Images Series I; Images Series II

 Debussy composed four sets of works under the title of Images of which three composed for piano are featured in this album. The first set of Images (oublides) of 1894, composed about the time Debussy was working on Prélude a I’après-midi d’un faune and the first draft of Pelléas et Mélisande, was not published until 1977. It is dedicated to the daughter of Debussy’s friend artist Henri Lerolle, Yvonne, with an elegant dedication. Debussy’s introductory notes explain that the pieces are ‘conversations between the piano and oneself and would ‘shun the brilliantly lit salons.’ The main theme of the untitled opening piece is initially presented by a sole melody without accompaniment, until the harmony is spelt out by arpeggios in bar 4 in like the opening of Prélude a I’après-midi d’un faune. The second piece, written in a ‘rhythm of a Sarabande… with a slow and solemn elegance’ later appeared as Sarabande, in the suite Pour le piano (1901) with a few harmonic and phrasing alternations. The first motif of the final piece relates to his String Quartet (1983) and the piece makes a use of an old round dance tune, Nous n’irons plus au bois. An exuberant piece, the effect of the clanging bells which lasts 54 bars is especially noticeable, evoking the bell motif of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. The piece was reworked and appeared as Jardins sous la pluie in Estempes (1903).

Debussy expressed his satisfaction with the first volume of Images to his publisher Durand: ‘…without undue pride, I believe these three pieces will live and will take [their] place in piano literature… either to the left of Schumann or to the right of Chopin…’ Ricardo Viñes, who also premiered Images II in 1908, gave the first performance. In the beginning of the first piece, Reflet dans I’eau, the gentle and sonorous perfect fifth Db-Ab derives the main three-note motif, Ab-F-Eb from its harmonics. The tempo marking Andantino motto (Tempo rubato) seems to be indispensable for the audible resonance suggested by the composer. Its climax reflects the motifs in Pelléas et Mélisande, and the use of Fibonacci series in this section gives a sense of unity. The second piece Hommage à Rameau takes a melodic inspiration from Rameau’s opera, Castor et Pollux. A solemn and slow Sarabande, the ‘sensibilities in harmony’which Debussy admired in Rameau’s music are well observed in the other-worldly beauty of the piece. The final piece, Mouvement, is a perpetuum mobile with ceaseless spiral movement. To be played in Animé, avec une Iégèreté fantasque mais precise, the more chromatic middle section, which leads to the sonorous climax, makes a lively contrast with the steady diatonic outer sections written firmly in C Major. The three pieces show structural connections and Debussy requested his publisher Durand to issue the three pieces as a single volume.

Composed between 1907 and 1908, the elaborate score of Images II, all written on three staves, shows an advance search for pianistic techniques with the expression more condensed and refined. The characteristics of titles, poetic and suggestive could be referred to the aesthetic of symbolism. The first piece Cloches à travers les feuille opens with a whole tone scale, which gives the effect of chimes shimmering through the layering of sounds. The chime effects reach the climax in the brighter tonal middle section before fading away in echoes of sonority. The title of the second piece, Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut was suggested by the dedicatee, Louis Laloy, after the completion of the piece. The music conveys an impression of oriental stillness and serenity, created by the sound inspired by gamelan ensemble. The final piece Poissons d’or, is said to be inspired by a Japanese lacquer panel which displays two golden coloured fish in a stream under a branch of willow. The extensive use of trills, tremolos and arpeggios, coupled with the supple phrases and contrasting Ragtime syncopations gives illustrative effects of the whimsical and lively character of the fish, agitated motions of fins and flashing scales. Finally, the last set to appear in 1912, Images for orchestra was initially conceived as for two pianos, a sequel set to Images I.

Tōru Takemitsu

Les yeux clos; Les yeux clos II; Rain Tree Sketch; Rain Tree Sketch II

Highly suggestive and evocative in character, the titles of Takemitsu’s works show a certain similarity to Debussy’s titles. In Takemitsu’s case though, the process of finding a title was indispensable prior to his composition. The compositional ideas and musical plans were contemplated during this process, and once a title was chosen, it served as a reference point from which other ideas derived. After the completion of a work, Takemitsu hoped that the title would stimulate listeners’ imagination for playing their part in creative contribution to the work. Takemitsu composed three pieces entitled Les yeux clos, inspired by lithographs of the same title by the French symbolist artist Odilon Redon. In black and white or colour, the subject is a woman’s bust with closed eyes, suggesting an inner world, dream, absence or apparition. This possibly reflects Takemitsu’s mind set while working on Les yeux clos in 1979, as his life-long mentor and the dedicatee of the piece, a Japanese surrealist poet and artist Shūzō Takiguchi died during the composition. The layers of fragmental melodies, superposed on the sustained pitches in flexible durations, freely connect from one to another. There is an orchestra version of the piece, which appears as the second movement of Visions, composed in 1990. Les yeux clos II was composed in 1988, dedicated to and premiered by Peter Serkin who commissioned the piece. In a very slow tempo, the transparent ringing tone of the perfect fifth, rather like Buddhist prayer bells, opens the piece and sets a meditative atmosphere.

Takemitsu composed three works on the subject of the ‘Rain Tree’. All three pieces were conceived as a metaphor for the cosmic ‘Rain Tree’, which appears in The clever rain tree’, one of the short stories of the series ‘Women listening to the rain tree’ by the Japanese novelist and Takemitsu’s friend Kenzaburō Ōe. In the story, the Rain Tree is presented as a gigantic but invisible old tree, which stands in the complete darkness, and unlike othertrees which can’t store up moisture too long, keeps stored rain drops fall from its thousands of tiny leaves. The earliest version is the rather theatrical Rain tree for 3 percussion players composed in 1981. Composed in 1982, Rain Tree Sketch for piano is dedicated to Maurice Fleuret for his fiftieth birthday and premiered by Kazuoki Fujii in the following year. The two subtly different basic tempi, which oscillate from one to another, create an illusion of multi temporal and spatial experience. It is written in ternary form and almost exclusively in the high register. Hence, the occasional appearances of the pitches in the lower register are given great significance. Takemitsu’s final piano work, Rain Tree Sketch II was composed in 1992 for a concert ‘Hommage à Olivier Messiaen’ of Les Semaines Musicales Internationales d’Orléans, France, and premiered by Alain Neveux. The piece uses two oscillating tempi in ternary form like Rain Tree Sketch. Along with Les yeux clos and Les yeux clos II, the use of rising three-note motifs in Rain Tree Sketch II evokes the opening of Erik Satie’s La Vocation, prelude to the first act of his incidental music Le Fils des étoiles, which Takemitsu arranged for flute and harp in 1975. The constant use of the tonal centre D in the lower register gives a sense of unity to the piece.

Japanese pianist Rika Zayasu was born in Tokyo in 1972. She was trained at the Conservatoire de Boulogne-Billancourt (1st prize with distinction) in France, Guildhall School of Music and Drama (MMus) and University of York (MPhil) in the UK while also receiving private tuitions by Denis Pascal, Michel Béroff and Maria Curcio, the legendary pupil of Artur Schnabel. Enthusiastic about new music, she gave several world premieres in the UK and abroad. Following the completion of her thesis on the music of Tōru Takemitsu, she gave the world premiere of her piano transcription of Takemitsu’s Requiem for string orchestra at St Martin-in-the-fields in London to critical acclaim. Rika Zayasu performs as a recitalist, chamber musician, and soloist with orchestra, appearing mainly in the UK and Europe.

© Rika Zayasu

** Artists Website

“Rika Zayasu plays with wonderful grace and precision. Her knowledge of the instrument and its capabilities clearly help shape her brilliant artistry both on this CD and in live performance. The clarity of her notes is only surpassed by her extraordinary musicality that introduces a wide range of musical emotions. The listener can feel the character of the piece radiating from her fingertips. She is truly a gem in the classical music industry with a level of musical integrity that can impress any audience she plays for. At Price Rubin we are proud to represent her and her wonderful Claudio recording.”

(Price Rubin & Partners Concert Management)

Review I – Cross Eyed Pianist (On Line)

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Claude Debussy, pianist Rika Zayasu has released a CD of two books of Images and Images oubliées, and four pieces by Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu.

Recorded at St Bartholomew’s, Brighton, this CD is produced and mastered by Claudio Records, using their new ‘Q-Lab Sound/192-Stereo High Definition Audio’, a technique which results in a remarkably pristine and natural quality of sound (undoubtedly helped by the fine acoustic of the recording venue and the quality Steinway instrument). CDs produced using this technique can be played on high-quality DVD-Audio equipment and Blu-Ray surround sound systems.

Rika plays with great sensitivity, displaying grace and precision in touch and use of pedal, and her understanding of Debussy’s music is clear from the range of musical shadings, nuances, colours, articulation and rhythmic vitality she brings to these works. The first Image from Book I, ‘Reflets dans l’eau’, is supple and fluid, with a rippling, luminous treble over a rich bass, which never overpowers. The oriental elements of this music (as in the other pieces in this suite) are highlighted, reminding us of Debussy’s fascination for Japonisme and eastern gamelan music. ‘Hommage à Rameau’ is haunting, stately and antique, its tempo relaxed but not dragging, so we never lose a sense of its structure, underpinned by the underlying 3-in-a-bar pulse, with some beautifully paced climaxes (again, evident in other works on the CD). ‘Mouvement’, in contrast, is sprightly and animated, with bright, joyful, bell-like sounds which continue into ‘Cloches a travers les feuilles’, in which Debussy evokes the sonorities of bells and carillons, and Far Eastern percussion. Here, there is some lovely, subtle highlighting of the internal melodic lines of this complex music. ‘Poissons d’or’ is vibrant and colourful, shimmering and characterful.

The Images oubliées are more introspective (Debussy described the pieces as “not for brilliantly lit salons … but rather conversations between the piano and oneself.”) . The ‘Lent’ is expressive and melancholy, while the ‘Sarabande’ (later reworked for the middle movement of Pour le Piano, with a few adjustments to harmony and phrasing) moves with a solemn, ancient elegance, with some lovely bright, clean fortes in the climaxes on the final page of the music. ‘Tres Vite’ is humourous, with toccata-like qualities which recall both the ‘Prelude’ and ‘Toccata’ from Pour le Piano, and ‘Jardins sous la pluie’ from Estampes.

The four pieces by Takemitsu perfectly complement the works by Debussy, and are related to them in the use of titles to stimulate the listener’s imagination. Les yeux clos (The Closed Eyes – three pieces in total) are inspired by a lithograph by the French symbolist artist Odilon Redon, which depicts a bust of a woman whose eyes are closed. It suggests a dream or inner world. Takemitsu’s music reflects this in the use of fragmented melodies over sustained pitches, with flexible durations, which freely connect to one another. Similarly, theRain Tree Sketches were inspired by a poem by Japanese novelist, and friend to the composer, Kenzaburo Oe, which describes ‘the clever rain tree’, an ancient tree whose thousands of tiny leaves collect and store rain water, so that after the storm has passed, rain continues to fall from the tree. Precipitation is suggested through single droplets of quiet, lone sustained notes and sudden dissonant clusters of sounds, as if shaken from saturated branches.

All four pieces are played with immense control and insight. Soft, pastel-coloured sound showers and radiant trebles chime over rich bass sonorities and pedal points, while the silences are as carefully judged as the notes between them. These pieces are evocative and ethereal, their transcendental nature emphasised through the precise use of pedals, and the pianist’s ability to allow sounds to resonate and ring, or fade to nothing, which create an exquisite sense of stillness.

Frances Wilson – www.crosseyedpianist.com

Review II – Musical Opinion

An impressive record, with some fine piano tone on disc I have heard. The playing of this gifted artist is of high quality throughout, the Claudio Q-Lab Sound being stunningly lifelike. All in all, here is an exceptional disc; the repertoire selected is equally intelligent and compelling.

Martin Morris.