It is rare to find a disc as creatively programmed as this BIS release. Enhanced by lovely performances, played with great devotion to the memory of the recently-deceased Japanese master, the repertoire was chosen by conductor Tadaaki Otaka and producer Robert Suff, who organized it not only in the most effective succesion, but in a manner that illustrates the works’ individual meaning and illuminates Takemitsu’s career. All but one of the compositions are from Takemitsu’s late period. The other, the Requiem for Strings, is one of the earliest works to win him fame. Fantasma/Cantos II, for trombone and orchestra, is among the last Takemitsu compositions. Both it and the Requiem provide considerably more forward harmonic motion than the other four works, which are in Takemitsu’s typical “Japanese garden” meditative style, a kind of revival of French impressionism using harmonies that are more like Messiaen’s than Debussy’s.
"Gemeaux" (1971-1986) is one of Takemitsu's grandest works in terms of musical arc, scoring and length of gestation. It is written for two orchestras with two conductors, and with solo trombone at one orchestra and solo oboe at the other. As half of it was written during Takemitsu's "modernist apogee" of the turn of the '70s, we find a host of extended techniques, and at one point the soloists even speak through the mouthpieces of their instruments. As the other half of the work belongs to Takemitsu's late period, we find a successful of elegant self-contained gestures, his musical "gardens". The synthesis of two creative periods, however, makes for a piece singular in its impact in Takemitsu's oeuvre.
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.
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.
Toru Takemitsu is widely regarded as the greatest Japanese composer of the 20th century. After the appearance of Folios in 1974 he was acknowledged as a formidable master of writing for the guitar, bringing to the instrument a sensibility and imaginative flair which have seldom been equalled. In the Woods was his final composition. Shin-ichi Fukada and Leo Brouwer were both close friends of Takemitsu, and this programme includes Brouwer’s two heartfelt homages in his memory.
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.
Alberto Rosado showcases some of the most significant modern composers in this well-considered programme. Inevitably he’s up against fierce competition, not least Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s recordings of both Ligeti’s Ricercata (included on the disc which received Gramophone’s Contemporary Award in 1997) and the complete Vingt Regards.
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.