The full power and intricacy of the Javanese gamelan are displayed in this very fine recording of the first half of a concert (klenengan) of the National Broadcasting Corporation orchestra, composed of the best musicians of the two courts in the city of Solo (Surakarta). Supported by the sonorous and solid gongs and kenongs (kettle drums) the main melody unfolds on the sarons (bronze metallophones), ornamented by half a dozen polyphonous side lines on the rebab (violin), gender (another metallophone), bonang (small kettle gongs), gambang (xylophone), suling (flute) and in song (sindhen), led by the kendhang (drums). The whole has been compared with the sound of moonlight on running water; at the same time a meditative, harmonious whole and a rich tapestry of ever-changing patterns. Different from Western music in almost all respects, but a rich reward for those willing to listen. This recording is the best in the genre currently available.
Two pieces from around 1800 are played on a 'soft' subset of the usual Javanese gamelan by musicians of the court of Surakarta. The melody and variations are carried on the rebab (two-string violin), gender, slentem (metallophones) and suling (bamboo flute), with the usual rythmic support from kendhang (drum), kenong, kethuk, kempyang (kettle gongs) and gong gede (large gong). These are slow, polyphonic pieces with the different melody lines being woven around the central theme, subtly changing with time. It is a joy to follow the intricacies, or just sit back and meditate on the whole.
The ancient gamelan of the court of the sultan of Surakarta, Central Java, is heard accompanying a sacred 'srimpi' dance. Although the gamelan and singing are most beautiful, and the clarity of the recording excellent, the music on this disc is not very accessible for the non-adept in its slow progress through one hour of intricate patterns and old-Javanese song. The adept may miss the sight of dancers reacting to the prominent keprak signals. Highly recommended for lovers of Javanese gamelan.
Again the court of Surakarta, which views itself as the heart of Javanese culture, has chosen a very old, majestic dance piece for a recording. This Bedhaya, dating from the late 18th century, is a court dance for nine young women related to the sacred Bedhaya Ketawang. We hear the gamelan accompanying the dance, playing first in an archaic, simple mode of kettle drums and voices, later changing to the usual 'soft' mode. This music is a subtle and rich blend of singing, rebab (2-snare violin), bamboo flute, metallophones, kettle drums and gongs, led by the rythmic dance signals from the keprak (a wooden box). Emotion is thus sublimated in shifting patterns of music, poetry and graceful movements. Unfortunately the verses are translated from old Javanese into Japanese only, and again one has to imagine the dancers with the mind's eye. This is made a lot easier by the current (spring 1996) tour of the court of Surakarta gamelan and dance group performing a shorter version of this dance.
Under the large pendapa (open hall) the musicians of the court of Mangkunagaran play two sacred gamelans. These consist only of 'loud' bronze instruments with a very rich deep sound. This makes the structure of the music more transparent than the usual Solonese style. Still, the music expresses a very rich range of nuances in this excellent recording, both in the quality of sound and in the musicianship of the gamelan players. Highly recommended for those who know the genre, and those who want to make its acquaintance.
Langendriyan is the Mangkunagaran style of wayang orang (a combination of dance, recitation and singing), in which all roles are performed by females. This CD contains an extract of "The death of Menakjingga", from the moment that the hero Damarwulan leaves home up to his death. (Of course he'll be revived afterwards, kill Menakjingga, and marry both his lover Anjasmara and the queen of Majapahit after many more adventures.) The music is typical dance-music, well-played, with prominent signals to the dancers, clear singing/recitation and slightly less subtleties than in a typical music-for-music piece. The popular short dance "Menak Jingga" is the third track. Unfortunately I am learning the Kraton version which is slightly different, so I cannot use this nice recording.
The first piece is a very nice introduction to the sound and rythm of the Cirebon iron gamelan, less formal than the Central Javanese form. Afterwards, there is high drama in two dance/singing pieces, unfortunately without translation or story-line, with gamelan accompaniement. The record ends with a vigorous mask dance of Prince Panji. In these last pieces one again gets the impression that an important visual (or language) aspect is lacking; one has to picture the dancers in one's imagination to get the full picture. Which is difficult if you have never been to Cirebon... (A small but very nice set of Cirebon gamelan pieces can also be found on this CD.)
A mix of recordings here, ranging from palace elegance to village vigour. The main part consists of a gamelan of the Kraton Yogyakarta playing a few elaborate pieces in soft style. To this are added a fragment of a wayang kulit (shadow puppet) performance, a trance dance and a Cirebon mask dance. This is the oldest CD in the World Library series, and unfortunately it shows. The recordings do not have the high technical standard of the later CDs in balance and clarity. Also a few of the pieces are truncated sections of longer performances, giving a rather unsatisfactory feeling.
This CD is a reissue of an old recording (Nonesuch H-72044, 1971). Unfortunately this is quite noticeable in the noisy and unbalanced recording - some of the softer instruments are barely audible over the bird twitter. However, the heirloom gamelan of the court of Paku Alaman (Yogya) has a most wonderful sound, with a glorious gong. After a rather haphazard Puspawarna follow two enchanting gendings (longer pieces) of contrasting moods: the first one elaborate, the second quiet. The record ends with the usual Udan Mas (Golden Rain) in loud Yogya style.
A very nice recording of Yogyakarta gamelan in the 'loud' style (mainly bronze). This is not to say the pieces are loud: they form exactly the kind of rippling, smoothly flowing sound for which the Javanese gamelan is famous. The complexity is just somewhat less daunting, consisting of the skeleton melodic line carried by the sarons. The bonang, bonang panerus & peking form patterns on top of it, the piece is supported by the gongs & kenong and led by the kendang.
On this CD the emphasis is more on the singing, the rest of the gamelan functioning more like an accompaniment. Although in the 'soft' mode, dominated by the gambang (xylophone) and suling (bamboo flute), the rythms are faster than in Solo and the songs sound more gay.
Side A of this export tape from Yogyakarta is filled with wedding pieces: the welcome, meeting of bride & groom, walking outside, walking inside. The first two are archaic pieces, thought to be at the origin of Javanese gamelan music, which use only three tones. 'Kodok Ngorek' is the famous 'Croaking Frog', also played at important religious festivals on its own heirloom gamelan. Side B features traditional welcome melodies, fast & simple lancarans, played here in a rather restrained fashion.
This is very welcome reissue of some old recordings (1970,1973) of court concerts at the Kraton of Yogyakarta. The notes lament the demise of the exquisite refinement and subtlety of the Yogya music culture since this time. Indeed, this recording shows an amazing richness of expression mainly in the soft style, the female singers (sinden led by Nyi Mursinah) taking a very prominent place. This last generation of court musicians playing the gamelan takes more room for interpretation than is usual, suggesting some of the deeper mystic meaning of the music even to the non-aristocratic listener.
According to the sparse notes these are songs full of good moral advice for young people, sung by a female and a male vocalist accompanied by a small gamelan. Unfortunately my Javanese is not up to appreciating the quality of the advice; without it the music is not very captivating.
This recording shows the Javanese gamelan accompanying a stately srimpi dance and two vigorous fighting dances. The melodies and patterns of the latter dances are rather simple, but executed with great precision to accentuate the violent blows and sudden pauses on the stage. A far cry from the subtle, restrained emotions of, e.g., the Langendriyan recording, the spirited action unfolds close by, and one just hopes the demons will be defeated.
The shadow theatre is commonly regarded as one of the high points of Javanese culture and "Dewa Ruci" ('the Subtle Godhead') is among the most famous plays in its repertoire. It tells the story of the warrior Bratasena's quest for the ultimate mystical insight. Bratasena (Bima) attains his goal, though not before engaging in severe physical and mental struggle.
The three-CD set *Dewa Ruci: een Javaans schimmenspel* contains a selection of scenes from this play as performed by the most successful puppeteer in Java today, Ki Anom Soeroto, during an all-night show in Amsterdam in 1987. Ki Anom Soeroto was accompanied by his own gamelan ensemble featuring Nyi Tantinah, Nyi Suyatmi, and Nyi Sarwo Sri.
The CDs contain over three and a half hours of musical drama. The set includes a 30-page booklet (in Dutch) with an introduction to gamelan music by Jos Janssen, an introduction to Javanese shadow theatre by Ben Arps, and a synopsis of the play.
The CD set may be ordered from the VPRO web site (including sound snippets) or VPRO Publieksservice, P.O. Box 11, 1200 JC Hilversum, the Netherlands. Phone: +31-35-6712271/6712298. Fax: +31-35-6712541. The Dutch price (DFL 62.50) includes postage and handling in the Netherlands. Enquire at VPRO Publiekservice for foreign shipping and handling costs. A book containing the text of the play will appear March 1996.B.Arps