“The Red Elfs Tale is a Japanese children’s story. Harumi Nakajima and the increasingly well-known Tokyo Guitar Ensemble commissioned this work, which realises the story musically.
The first movement, in 9/8 is rhythmically fascinating, being, in reality, 3/4+3/8 in guitar 2 and 9/8 elsewhere. Light and gracious, it’s a charming and fresh start to the tale, almost fugal, but the harmonies become darker. In a rather playful way, the tune appears back in the dominant. The notation is insistent that sometimes it’s legato and sometimes it’s staccato, by using note-lengths rather than staccato marks to emphasise the articulation clearly and unambiguously. The music’s mischief continues with a modulation to the dominant’s dominant, getting ever brighter and slightly more ornamented. By the time the movement has come full circle, we are back in G where we started. But mixed in with the major themes are darker, harmonic minor episodes and the contrasts are well supported with different textures and rhythms. Once some of the more unusual chords are fingered (there is no fingering), the principal complexity is in the rhythm and in locking the parts together. Technically, or perhaps a better word might be mechanically, this is no tougher than Grade 8, but the counting and musicianship will prove altogether more character building,
The second movement (elsewhere titled The Red Elfs Lullaby) is more freeform with, notes ringing on, pauses, and a general sense of timelessness. Curiously dissonant yet strangely open and clean, it combines sustained melody and eerie arpeggios that made me think of smoke curling, or water dripping in a forest. Unlike a lullaby, it didn’t create any sense of calm or resolution until the very end; until that point, it was essentially devoid of structure, at least from the listener’s perspective. Very much more complex, in note vocabulary, in harmonics, and in the irregular and formless rhythm, this is a much more challenging piece than the opener, and in some respects, much less likely to engage the audience, being more like “film soundtrack” than recital material. Fingering is scant, but does show where open strings are expected, so that they cut through the shimmering arpeggios, to create a pungent bite to the soundscape.”
Derek Hasted (Classical Guitar Magazine)