MUSIC / A quota of amazement: Tokyo Philharmonic - Royal Festival Hall, London

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How do you introduce the ritual of Japanese Kabuki into the Western symphony orchestra, an institution with quite enough rituals of its own? One way, if there's a soloist involved, is to use the auditorium. Though hardly a new idea, like all surprises it has the virtue of working at least once. In Masataka Matsuo's Phonosphere 1, which the Tokyo Philharmonic played at the South Bank on Sunday at the end of a European tour, the soloist reached the platform via a stalls gangway, where he remained during a lengthy orchestral prelude of fierce exchanges between trumpets, tuba and a priestly trio of trombones planted stage left. Buddhist solemnity seemed the key here. Kifu Mitsuhashi played the Kabuki tsukeuchi flute until he reached the side of the conductor Kazushi Ono, then switched to the shakuhachi, another flute of the ancient, bamboo variety.

And the ceremony over, the music began. Like his Chinese contemporary Tan Dan, Matsuo, now in his mid-thirties, knows that ethnic custom can go a certain distance with the modern orchestra but must also match formalities with argument. Phonosphere 1 took its cue from the nature of the shakuhachi itself, a deep- toned creature, close in looks to a large species of recorder, but speaking eloquently in short, asthmatic phrases like rushing wind in a cave. The material for discussion was a trenchant shakuhachi phrase taken up by the orchestral brass and woodwind, and punctuated by the ritual intercession of a strident woodblock.

First impressions of music outstaying its welcome were dispelled by a central episode of terse, rugged development that also had the sweep of a broad paragraph with positive urges of direction and suspense. Then it happened: through a breathtaking dissolve, the music arrived in a joyous landscape of bells, harps and lush string-chords, with the main idea transformed into triumphant Janacek fanfares on trumpets and horns. The climax and coda (via a shakuhachi cadenza) were pleasant, if expected. But the audience had already received its quota of amazement and it had been worth waiting for.

Confident orchestral playing in the Matsuo was not always reflected in two classics from the Western repertoire: Strauss's Don Juan and Ravel's second Daphnis and Chloe suite. As a band, these performers still lack a distinctive and personal quality of sound, though the potential is there for Ono to discover, judging by the high standard of individual contributions. A melting, beautifully phrased oboe melody in the Strauss, for example, was less than complemented by strength and blend of ensemble in woodwind and brass as a whole.

Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto showed their capacity for concentration.

In the first movement they responded to soloist Raphael Oleg's cool view of the music with sensitive playing, properly restrained and firm on detail.

The Andante assai was more of a poem; Oleg's slow-motion pizzicato reprise a moment of special tenderness. The finale was quick off the mark, Oleg and orchestra in full agreement as the music found its own momentum.

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