music contains some distinct consistencies across the two decades between
the earliest piece an the disc (Walk, 1976) and the most recent (Winsen Dance
Step, 1995). The pieces are extremely linear, with but little concentration
on harmonic progression in the traditional sense. There is something of minimalism
in this music, in many cases a steady pulse in quantifiable, if often irregular,
groupings. Kondo avoids the simplistic repetition of patterns or processes,
however, and many of the works use a pitch language with ties to serialism.
A better precedent to cite would be Cage's pitched works from the 30s and
Walk for flute and piano uses an almost entirely (melodically) consonant language. The two Instruments begin in unison both in pitch and rhythm, then phase apart; the analogy of two people walking, their strides initially matching but not staying matched, is an apt one. An Insular Style (flute, clarinet, harp, and percussion) uses a more complex pitch language and of course a much greater timbral range. The rhythmic template is similar, in that the parts often step in unison through groups of regularly pulsed rotes. In this piece, though, the flute carries a melody, a melancholy tune gliding just on the edge of scale patterns and traditional phrases. The dancelike, whimsical An Elder's Hocket (flute, clarinet, piano, marimba) unpredictably interposes three beat measures into the two beat texture. The pitch material is again a fairly consonant one, wich whole tone contours.
The guitar and harp in Duo (1982) play throughout in rhythmic unison. Kondo seems to have concerns similar to Feldman's; he attempts to have the sonorities sound without relation to adjacent "chords". Trying to hear a linear progression seems beside the point. The similarity of the harp and guitar timbres is a source of focus, too, allowing for the contrasting of subtle differences. Aquarelle for percussion and piano has a more serene, muted character than the other works, with a slower basic pulse and essentially quiet music. Similarly to Duo, one of Kondo's concerns is with similarities and differences in the colors of the piano and vibraphone. A gong and cowbells are treated more as extensions of the basic palette than as new sonorities. Pendulmus is anomalous in this group of pieces, not only for being a solo work for percussion but in its structure, which contains small sections that repeat immediately. Outbursts, often on steel drum, interrupt music that is otherwise quiet.
Greater timbral variety and greater complexity in part relations occurs in Words ( 1986) and Winsen Dance Step. Both still contain the unison rhythm writing of the earlier works. In Words the wind parts trade and match sustained pitches that crescendo, in contrast with the sharp attacks and quick decays of the percussion and piano. In Winsen Dance Step the initially regular rhythms smear in almost entropic fashion; eventually near stasis ensues, but ultimately the ensemble succeeds in tracking the opening plan of the piece.
This is music of wonderful subtlety and beauty, with clear but not simplistic structure and terrific sense of color. The ensemble plays as thoughtfully as Kondo writes, navigating barely audible but necessary changes in balance and tempo with incredible empathy. Recommended for all ages, for the music, the great recorded sound that picks up the tiniest color change, and the clear, informative notes from this very fine composer. Robert Kirzinger
246 Fanfare MarchlApril 1999