MUSIC REVIEW : Viklarbo Chamber Ensemble Features Japanese Composers

The Viklarbo Chamber Ensemble ended its monthlong foray into music of Latino, Asian, black and women composers with a concert of works (mostly) by Japanese composers. All of the scores--presented Wednesday at Loyola Marymount University--used modest means to modest ends, yet proved direct in expression and never less than engaging. Pretension, refreshingly, was at a low ebb.

Joji Yuasa, who prefaced his “Study in White” for computer with the disclaimer “I am not a computer-music composer,” nevertheless turned out to be compelling in that role.

In this 10-minute work, he uses the voices of a man and woman reading a haiku and a brief English poem, substituting, in effect, white noise for the readers’ vocal cords. The words are stretched out, isolated and echoed in eerie but comprehensible electronic whisper.

A typical and remarkable moment occurs in the second poem, its question-and-answer dialogue delivered in an omnipotent monotone accompanied by what might best be described as a choir of elephants trumpeting the fourth movement of Schumann’s “Rhenish” Symphony. Silhouettes of trees projected across the backstage wall added to the work’s dream-world qualities.


Yosio Hasegawa’s “Two Japanese Folk-Tunes"--performed by violinist Maria Newman and pianist Wendy Prober--surprised by sounding not Japanese at all. Filling the tunes out with Western harmonies turned them into, first, a cowboy fiddler’s serenade and, second, a lost episode from “Petrushka.”

Toshiro Mayuzumi’s “Bunraku” effectively adapts samisen music and plucked techniques to solo cello (Sebastian Toettcher), adding, sometimes simultaneously, a Bartokian bowed commentary. Hawaiian-born Dennis Kam uses an angular minimalism in his robust and forthright Fantasy Sonata for clarinet and piano, played by Jeff Elmassian and Prober. A minimalist style also characterizes Somei Satoh’s “Birds in Warped Time II” for violin and piano (Newman and Prober), its incessant, glistening piano ostinato accompanying a simple, long-note violin melody.