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J.S. Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 – Solo Flute Partita in A minor, BWV 1013 – Cello Suite No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012 – Solo Violin Sonata No. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001
C.P.E. Bach: Variations on the Folia of Spain

Makoto Nakura (Marimba and Vibraphone)
Recording: St. Viator Kitashirakawa Catholic Church, Kyoto (April 2007) – 62'23
Kleos Classics KL5147

This beguiling disk displays expanded possibilities for the marimba, played by someone who is obviously an accomplished and sensitive musician. Judging from this disk, I would place Makoto Nakura in the same rarified league as Evelyn Glennie for fine nuance and control of a percussion instrument.

This disk does not fall into the novelty category as when someone plays around with the classics, as for example the Cambridge Buskers or Mary Schneider’s yodelling of the classics. Nor is it jazz. It is also unlike transcriptions for synthesizer à la Wendy Carlos or Isao Tomita.

I am tempted to use the word “distillation” as much as “transcription” for what Nakura does. I was somewhat skeptical about all this, especially of any treatment of the great probing Cello Suite, but Nakura engenders the same sort of metaphysical solitude that Glenn Gould managed with the keyboard.

Nakura’s accompanying notes clearly express his ideas behind his transcribing these works. On a practical level, it helps solve the problem of the small repertoire composed expressly for the marimba. And much music by Bach is transferrable to instruments or groups other than those originally composed for - the Swingle Singers come to mind. So much of Bach’s music can be described as “pure” or “abstract”, and as such is transferrable in this way. The Art of the Fugue comes to mind as a piece with no instrument specified for it.

In spite of its many fine aspects, the one drawback of this disk as a listening experience is that there is either too much marimba or too much Bach. The Bach would be very nicely set off on a disk of varied marimba music, with perhaps transcriptions from other composers’ works, works from the instrument’s African/Latino roots, and new compositions with perhaps choral or other instrumental ensemble work. Similarly, an all-Bach disk could contrast the marimba with transcriptions for other instruments. Still, it does give a pleasing sampling of what can be done with some variety of musical forms by the two Bachs.

Michael Johnson




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