I was scrolling through the mass of random musical material on my iPod last night and I ended up listening to this. It’s traditional music for the koto which according to the booklet “belongs to the family of long zithers.” This makes it sound dangerous, but I don’t think they are, normally.
I have ever only heard a koto live once, as part of a kabuki performance (I wish we got more kabuki around here, but this has always been one of the limitations of the Deep South. Even if you go to Atlanta, where there is even an Ikea, one’s kabuki opportunities are fairly limited.) But I think it’s mainly a solo instrument. Good koto playing – to the limited extent that I know anything about it – reminds me of good lute playing. The performer on this recording, Nanae Yoshimura, is known for playing traditional koto repertoire as well as commissioning and performing contemporary works. She also is one of the people responsible for popularizing the nijugen, a koto with additional strings that extend its range. What I like about the performances on this recording is how each of the pieces has a very definite shape. Like I said, I don’t know anything about koto playing, but the rhythm and dynamic contrasts and pauses are both expressive and precise; I get the same “just the right amount of space between all the notes” impression that I get from good instrumental playing in other contexts.