KUNIKO - cantus - The Times

Body depleted, also mind: these weeks of hot weather have made listening to more challenging music particularly testing. Brian Ferneyhough? Too many notes. He stays on the shelf. A Mahler symphony? Too long. Minimalist music in short bites, arranged for marimba? Now you're talking.

Hence in part the appeal of Cantus, a recital of digitally enhanced percussion arrangements from the compelling Japanese player Kuniko Kato (currently abbreviated to Kuniko), whose earlier Steve Reich CD proved Linn Records' bestselling release of 2011. Two weeks ago, she performed almost the same programme live at the Cheltenham Music Festival, although the sonic results must have been flatter than the wonders dazzlingly conjured here from three disparate recording acoustics, including a mountain church.

Reich features in the new bill of fare with New York Counterpoint, written for multiple clarinets and excitingly converted here into a bubbling feast for a digitally duplicated marimba. But the CD is dominated by Arvo Pärt, he of the simple tolling phrases and music seemingly without beginning or end. The music just is - particularly so in the Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten.

Originally for strings, the piece is transformed by overdubbing into a shimmering, sliding cascade of massed marimbas, pieced together from more than 200 recorded tracks, gradually increasing in weight and volume. I felt I was inside Niagara Falls, tumbling in exquisite slow motion: a refreshing experience in soaring temperatures.

Other items given the marimba treatment are Fratres (also with vibraphone) and Spiegel im Spiegel, a game of mirrors with a three-note pattern, particularly suited to Kuniko's marimba and bells.

Before that final display of tintinnabulation, a British visitor appears: Hywel Davies's Purl Ground for solo marimba. There are amazing sounds among its 11 minutes of tremulous timbres and humming harmonic overtones... a triumph of adventurous musicianship. Hypnotic and cooling too.

The Times
26 July 2013