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Richard Whitehouse
Gramophone, March 2007

A worthwhile journey into Takemitsu's sound world - via Bournemouth

Discs of Toru Takemitsu's orchestral music have been numerous these past two decades but this Naxos release has the advantage of providing a chronological overview. What comes through, above all, is the consistency of his musical development during that time. The sound world of Solitude sonore (1958) might evoke an Asiatic Messiaen, yet the translucent sonorities and suspended - never merely static - sense of motion denote an already personal voice. Moving to A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden (1977) is to reach the point where all the elements of Takemitsu's mature idiom are in place: the music unfolding as waves of diaphonous textures in which melodies and harmonies are ceaselessly changing. Less sensuous in manner, Dreamtime (1981) is possibly the finer piece - its interplay of motifs effortlessly evoking an atmosphere remote yet ethereal. From the output of the composer's last decade, Spirit Garden (1994) stands out for its clarity and subtlety of thought - a "concerto for orchestra" that is emphatically no display piece.

On BIS, Tadaaki Otaka conducts two of these works with a greater awareness of their intuitive momentum, but the Bournemouth orchestra are by no means outclassed in what is probably their finest collaboration yet with Marin Alsop. She also includes three pieces for strings drawn from film scores - of which "Funeral Music" has a baleful intensity rare in Takemitsu's concert music. First rate sound, not too close in perspective, and detailed notes from Andrew Burn complete a worthwhile introduction to this singular composer.



Kirk McElhearn
MusicWeb International, October 2006

Toru Takemitsu is one of those composers whose work is not very well known, but whose fans anxiously await every new recording of his music. With less than a couple dozen CDs currently available - including several on Naxos and many on BIS - each new Takemitsu disc is a pleasure for fans of his music.

Takemitsu was, as the liner notes to this CD say, “the first Japanese composer to gain international status.” Interestingly, he was essentially self-taught, composing from his models, who included Debussy, Stravinsky, Berg and Messiaen. He was later influenced by composers he came to know personally such as John Cage and Morton Feldman. Yet his music, while situated clearly in the twentieth century, is hard to compare to that of others. Takemitsu’s style combines chromaticism, varied instrumental colors - especially in orchestral works such as these. He also uses silence as a compositional tool.

Spirit Garden, the first work on this disc, and the latest, is an excellent example of his techniques. With an eerie feeling and a wide range of textures and colors it is more like a tone poem than a symphony. It is hard to notice the underlying structure, but one easily catches the similar motifs that permeate the work. In its nearly fifteen minutes, it contains mystery and introversion. This orchestra gives every sign of being ideally suited to perform such a work; in fact, Marin Alsop seems to have an excellent affinity for Takemitsu’s works.

Solitude Sonore, while much older, is not very different from Spirit Garden. With more tension in the brass and strings, it gives similar tones and feelings, and the juxtaposition of these two works in quite interesting. Indeed, much of Takemitsu’s music has this other-worldly tone, which the composer explored with a variety of instruments and ensembles.

Takemitsu also composed music for nearly one hundred films, and, in many ways, was better known in his home country for this work than for his “serious” music. While the three examples here show a composer not seeking to attain the same types of emotions as in the music he wrote for its own sake, they are nevertheless interesting short pieces. Nevertheless, these works, especially the third, a waltz, may not strike the listener as worth a return visit.

Dreamtime returns to the composer’s more familiar style, in an almost Feldmanesque manner, with recurring motifs that make up short episodes. Again, a work that seems unstructured on the surface, has many layers of detail and depth.

Finally, A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden, one of Takemitsu’s best-known and most performed works, is a brilliant miniature containing dissonance, chance music, silence and five-note scales. These combine to create a unique and sonorous experience.

Describing Takemitsu’s music is difficult, but it is nothing like much twentieth-century music, with harsh chromaticism that may turn off listeners more used to the formally structured music of earlier centuries. In fact, his music has its own language, seems beholden to none, and astounds by its subtle combinations of “classical” and contemporary styles. This disc, featuring an interesting selection of his works, well performed and well recorded, is the perfect introduction to the music of this astounding composer. Its bargain price should convince even the most reticent. With any luck, you’ll become hooked and seek out other Takemitsu discs.




David Hurwitz
ClassicsToday.com, August 2006

This disc makes an ideal introduction to Toru Takemitsu's very beautiful and personal sound world. It's particularly nice to have the three-movement suite of film music in between the larger concert works because it gives the entire program an additional dollop of stylistic contrast. As with Messiaen, Takemitsu's music, when taken in large doses, can begin to sound monotonous. You basically know what it's going to do after the first couple of minutes, and the only question is how long it's going to do it. The most stop-and-start work in this respect is Spirit Garden, but as with most of this composer's output, the dreamy, lush textures (lots of harp and soft percussion) combined with dissonant but curiously alluring harmony make each moment so aurally arresting that it's pointless to complain. If you like it, just sit back and wallow.

The performances by the Bournemouth Symphony under Marin Alsop are very fine: well detailed, sensitive to dynamics, and most importantly of all, just about perfectly paced. So much of the success of this music depends on keeping it flowing, and that's exactly what happens here. Dreamtime is hypnotic but not comatose, while A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden is particularly well done. Alsop is about a minute slower here than Ozawa (DG) or Otaka (BIS), and substantially more so than Iwaki (ABC Classics), but there's no suggestion of sluggishness, and textural detail registers with admirable clarity and point. This latter work also has more internal contrast than the other pieces on the disc, and Alsop has caught the trick of giving the loud outbursts impact without undue harshness. Naxos' engineering is excellent too. In sum, this is a welcome disc, a compelling tribute to one of the 20th century's major musical voices.



Jeff Simon
The Buffalo News, July 2006

For far too long, we knew only enough of Takemitsu's prolific musical life to consign him to a kind of post-Messiaen colorism and exoticism. But, his complete work is vastly richer and more varied and expressive than that. Alsop's Takemitsu is a superior introduction to his haunting sound world for those who need one.






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6:22:20 PM, 26 December 2014
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