Makoto Nakura Plays Bach, Osada and Bunch at Trinity Church, NYC 2/21/08
Interpretation has never been more fresh than it was this afternoon, as Japanese expat marimba player Makoto Nakura played a fascinatingly imaginative, spectacularly virtuosic program of classical and modern works. Although Nakura didn’t seem to even break a sweat, the passion of his performance matched his precision. He began with his own arrangements of two etudes and then two preludes by Villa-Lobos. Playing the marimba or vibraphone requires equal amounts of athleticism and meticulous skill, and Nakura nailed it all, both during the baroque-inflected studies that seemingly served as a warmup, and the more complicated, lyrical two works that he followed with.
Next, he tackled a piece written for him by Japanese composer Moto Osada, entitled Sylvan Lay and Pastoral Air. From traditional Japanese mythology, it’s a narrative of confrontation and forgiveness involving a couple of medieval warriors, although there was absolutely nothing remotely antique about this difficult, tonally challenging, intensely cerebral work. There were some striking passages, including an ominously percussive series of tritones early on, and one particularly impressive, rapid run down the scale midway through, but this is a piece that requires repeated listening.
After that, Nakura played his own arrangement of Bach’s popular Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Minor. This is one of those NPR Bach pieces, a well-known composition frequently heard around Christmastime during pledge drives, but Nakura made it all his own, from the sad tonalities of the adagio that opens the piece, to the interesting, Vivaldiesque “Siciliana” that serves as a third movement, to the rousing Presto that wraps it up. Following this with the Fugue from one of Bartok’s final compositions, the Solo Violin Sonata, was ambitious, but the move fell flat: as can happen in Bartok’s work from time to time, the piece is fussy and overworked, and the new arrangement did nothing to compensate for the lack of emotional compass.
To close the show, Nakura invited composer Kenji Bunch up to the mic to introduce his recent composition Triple Jump, also written for Nakura. Written specifically for the marimba, it’s an intriguing, smartly arranged three-part suite, the first evoking Chicago lounge-psychedelia instrumentalists Tortoise, the second being a thoughtful, somewhat pastoral evocation of stones skipping across a placid pond, the final being an impressively upbeat portrayal of muscle and sinew in action. A program like this might at first glance seem far better suited to something like the Next Wave Festival or an outsider jazz club like the Stone, but Trinity Church has incredible acoustics, the tones of the marimba bouncing around gorgeously, creating something of an organ effect especially when Nakura was using his soft mallets. Adventurous listeners got a real treat this afternoon. Three cheers for whoever booked this winter’s series here. And there wasn’t a single bus alarm blasting in from outside and disturbing the concert, either!
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