Tan Dun's Concerto for String Orchestra and Pipa (1999) is a reworking of one of his most popular works, Ghost Opera, written for and recorded by the Kronos Quartet. In this version, the composer's characteristic polystylism – which here includes Chinese folk song, Copland-esque Big Sky music, quotations from Bach, and vocalizations by the orchestra – comes across as a jumble, without much of a strong vision holding the disparate elements together. Pipa virtuoso Wu Man, who appeared on the Kronos recording, plays the concerto with energy and delicacy. She's ably accompanied by the Moscow Soloists, led by Yuri Bashmet. The concerto is followed by Takemitsu's Nostalghia (1987) for violin and string orchestra. Its compositional assurance, clarity, subtly nuanced orchestration, and emotional directness make it all the more striking in contrast to the Tan Dun. Here Bashmet is the impassioned soloist, with Roman Balashov conducting with great sensitivity. The three brief excerpts from Takemitsu's film scores are a pleasant stylistic diversion – light, strongly differentiated character pieces.
Toru Takemitsu (1931-1996) was a self-taught Japanese composer who combined elements of Eastern and Western music and philosophy to create a unique sound world. Some of his early influences were the sonorities of Debussy, and Messiaen's use of nature imagery and modal scales. There is a certain influence of Webern in Takemitsu's use of silence, and Cage in his compositional philosophy, but his overall style is uniquely his own. Takemitsu believed in music as a means of ordering or contextualizing everyday sound in order to make it meaningful or comprehensible.
These are probably the rarest Takemitsu recordings around. Toru Takemitsu composed music for at least 70 films (I have read that it's actually around 90 but I haven't researched this) and the music can be exceptionally wide-ranging: traditional Japanese soloists and ensembles, Western classical tradition, avant-garde and everything in between (jazzy lounge and space age music, anyone?) I feel that some of his best film scores are those which have his delicate Debussian touches combined with traditional Asian music and soloists.
This disc contains 11 piano pieces by Toru Takemitsu performed by Izumi Tateno. It was originally released in 1996 on Finlandia, but now appears in reissue in Warner Classics' economy line Apex. Like all of Takemitsu's oeuvre, his piano works (which altogether make up only a single CD) are meditative, intensely focused, and undramatic.
Performed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Yuzo Toyama with soprano Rie Hamada. A beautiful digital recording of several rarely performed works by Takemitsu (the soprano part of the marvelous "Coral Island" is very difficult, for example, and the "Archipelago S" is for an unusual ensemble of instruments). Many of the subtleties of Takemitsu's writing are lost in recording (for example, subtle harmonics behind more foreground material), but the engineers made a good effort here.
Performed by various soloists with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ryusuke Numajiri. Recorded both in analog and digital versions in the Japanese double-CD release. "Twill by Twilight" is a harmonically and timbrally lush work, which often evokes the tone painting breadth of Debussy and the crystalline delicacy of Webern, an outpouring of "pastel coloring…reminders of the transient nature of twilight, before the coming night and after the sunset" (Takemitsu). It is dedicated to "the memory of my dear friend Morton Feldman." Takemitsu described the work's sub-structure as developed "through strictly measured musical units, through what might be called musical principles before a melody is constituted or before a rhythm is formed." This is a very apt metaphor applicable to Morton Feldman's own compositional style. The small and broad cyclicism of the rhythm patterns in Takemitsu's work is however much more hidden – a kind of phased, elastic, non-clockwork repetition with imaginative variations.
German guitarist Franz Halász displays a fine sense of tone and pacing in this revealing overview of Takemitsu's solo guitar music. Takemitsu wrote for the concert stage in an original avant-garde idiom, created over 100 film soundtracks, and produced arrangements of Japanese folk tunes and Western popular music. This range, except for the soundtracks, is represented here. The title tracks are from the concert work All in Twilight – Four pieces for guitar (1987), inspired by Paul Klee's painting of the same name. Here Halász's beautiful touch is shown in contrasting and subtle timbres on the composer's rich, jazz-like harmonies, sometimes brooding, sometimes in quickly flowing passages like those of the third movement. Next, the first six of "12 Songs" introduces some technically challenging, but aesthetically straightforward arrangements – Sammy Fain's classic Secret Love, four tunes by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and George Gershwin's Summertime in which Takemitsu spectacularly manages to reduce the best orchestral parts to the limits of the guitar and to improvise in a free-flowing manner.