Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
Japanese Guitar Music, Vol. 4
Schin-ichi Fukuda & Shigenori Kudo
Despite this album’s title and the top billing of the classical guitarist, most of the melodies are assigned to Shigenori Kudo, whose flutes breathe forth an airy loveliness characteristic of each selection but the three that he sits out. So consider the program a Kudo recital highlighted by the flute solo “Air” and featuring the expert accompaniment of Schin-ichi Fukuda. How expert, exactly? He captures the Piazzolla-inspired inflections of “Kojyo no Tsuki” as vividly as he captures the liquid properties of “Wave Recollections” and “Water Drops.”
On the Path to H.C. Andersen
The somber timbres—part calliope, part flute—that Wang conjures from her instrument in the three Martin Lohse compositions that make up this disc’s first half are lyrical enough to dispel any notions you might have acquired from zydeco or polkas about the accordion’s expressive potential. The experimental timbres—part suspense thriller, part art-house film—that Wang conjures in Jesper Koch’s “Jabberwocky,” Bent Lorentzen’s “Tears,” and Sven Aaquist’s “Saga Night” will make sure that those notions never reassemble themselves and return.
Whispering Fragrance: The Chamber Works of Stephen Yip
Born in Hong Kong and now a U.S. resident, Stephen Yip composes music that’s probably nowhere near the top of President Xi’s playlist. Although it utilizes traditional Chinese instruments almost exclusively, the traditions that it evokes have more in common with those of free jazz than with those of Beijing opera. And don’t be fooled by titles such as “In Seventh Heaven” and “Peace of Mind”: Yip’s sounds are as agitated and demanding as anything ever to drive the next-apartment neighbors of Ornette Coleman fans nuts.
Mutsuo Shishido: Complete Works For Piano
Anyone tired of the war on “cultural appropriation” will find relief in this omnibus. Although Shishido made a priority of giving his works a Japanese character, his studies with Olivier Messiaen and André Jolivet guaranteed Western (or at least Parisian) influences as well. Another Shishido priority: formal diversity. Sandwiched between the opening two suites and the concluding two sonatas are three pieces that clock in at under five minutes combined. And in his compositions for children, he achieved a nimble playfulness in which Akina Yura takes obvious delight.
The reasons that detractors of Philip Glass give for dismissing his compositions—their hypnotic repetitiveness, their lack of melodic or harmonic development, their static ecstasies—are often the same ones that fans of Glass give for praising them. The only point on which the two camps disagree is whether music that functions more like a vast, pulsating audio kaleidoscope than … well … whatever music is supposed to function like is enjoyable. To such disputes there can be no resolution.
Orange Mountain Music has released new recordings of the early Glass works Music with Changing Parts (1970) and The Grid (four selections from Koyaanisqatsi  plus “North Star” ) by the Salt Lake Electric Ensemble and the organist James McVinnie respectively. Neither will convert skeptics. But both—the latter by dispatching with an ensemble and the former by adding textures to and subtracting 16 minutes from the original—possess a personality not usually associated with Glass’ ego-effacing proceedings. —A.O.