Percussionist Kuniko Kato’s album Cantus brings two of my passions together: Percussion and minimalism. This album follows her album Kuniko Plays Reich which was released in 2011. After receiving much praise for that album, she “wanted to make minimalist music more accessible.” She achieves this spectacularly in Cantus which was released in 2013.
The album opens with Für Alina by Estonian Composer Arvo Pärt. This piece is normally about 11 minutes in length, but Kato opts out of repeating phrases and shortens it to 4 minutes. She recorded the piece in a small ancient church, which is a perfect environment for the resonate tones of the vibraphone and crotales to sing at this slow and contemplative tempo.
New York Counterpoint by Steve Reich is one of his most popular compositions. It is a piece originally scored for amplified clarinet and tape. She utilizes the entire range of the five octave marimba and various types of mallets and methods of striking in order to mimic the clarinet perfectly.
Pärt’s Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten It is a threnody written to mourn the death of Composer Benjamin Britten, who Pärt admired dearly. It is originally scored for string orchestra and bell. This work translates to marimba very clearly. Kato rolls the notes on the marimba throughout the whole piece, creating a giant resonate sound.
Purl Ground by Hywel Davies is the only piece on the album that is originally scored for marimba. The piece stays very quiet and has a humming quality, never surpassing the half-way point of the marimba. Kato calls this piece “deeply evocative.”
Fratres and Spiegel im Spiegel are two more compositions from Pärt featured on the album. Fratres was written in 1977 and many versions exist today, from piano and cello to string orchestra and percussion. Her arrangement for marimba uses soft mallets on the low end of the marimba, harder mallets on the mid and high range, and bowing of the marimba keys throughout. The bowing is quiet, you have to listen closely. Spigel im Spigel was originally scored for piano and violin. It is repetitive and played at a slow walking pace. Kato rolls the melody notes on the marimba while the repetitive tonic triads are played on the high end of the marimba. Bells chime in brightly throughout the piece.