, February 2011
Toshio Hosokawa is probably the best known Japanese composer of the post-Takemitsu generation, were it only because his music has been pretty generously recorded. It is available on a number of labels such as Kairos, Col Legno and Stradivarius as well as on the Japanese label Fontec. He has a vast and varied output to his credit ranging from music for solo instruments to operas.
In his insert notes Hosokawa insists on the importance of Japanese calligraphy for his music, something suggested to him by his teacher Isang Yun. He also stresses the influence of the flute tradition in Japanese music such as heard in Gagaku and Noh on his own music for flute as represented here. “The breath noise you sometimes here in it is a noise that was until the nineteenth century forbidden in western flute music. In the Japanese tradition, however, this noise is something used positively as a way to approach a more natural breath.”
Hosokawa composed a number of works for solo instruments sharing the title “Sen”, that incidentally means a brush or pencil stroke; there are now some six or seven of them including one for accordion and one for solo percussion. These pieces clearly reflect the aforementioned importance of calligraphy in that the music unfolds in strokes reminiscent of brush strokes used by calligraphers. The end result is thus a fragmentary and episodic kaleidoscope of contrasted sections interspersed by silence (the blank space surrounding calligraphy). Sen I is no exception and actually paved the way for the other Sen pieces.
Fragmente II is for alto flute and string quartet. The music is actually more integrated than its title might suggest although the work again consists of episodes but all firmly anchored on F sharp to which the music continually returns.
Vertical Song I is another work for solo flute. The very title of the piece clearly indicates that the composer avoided the traditionally conceived “horizontal” song that one might have expected to replace it by “a song which tries to rise up vertically above time”. Again the means used and the result achieved are not far from musical calligraphy.
On the other hand Lied for flute and piano is a real song without words that unfolds in a very straightforward way.
Hosokawa has also composed—and obviously is still composing—a series of chamber concertos entitled Voyage. There are now some eight or ten of these concertos. They are scored for mixed chamber ensemble of wind, strings and percussion. True to their title the works trace a sort of journey and Voyage V is again no exception. The music starts slowly and a bit mysteriously, unfolds through a series of episodes rather than movements before returning to a varied restatement of the opening. This and Lied are probably the most accessible pieces in this release and, thus, the place to begin if you are new to Hosokawa’s sound-world.
The final item Kuroda-bushi is a fairly simple arrangement of a traditional Japanese folk song written as an encore for alto flute, although—as with the other works in this release—it cannot be that easy to play.
Kolbeinn Bjarnason is a formidable musician whose almost effortless technique is matched by a deep musicality. These readings of often exacting scores cannot be faulted. They obviously pleased the composer. The well known Caput Ensemble supports him with commitment and immaculate playing.
Hosokawa’s music may not always be easy but it is highly personal, sincere and honest and as such repays repeated hearings. As mentioned earlier if you are new to his music I suggest that you begin with Lied and Voyage V. On the other hand Hosokawa’s admirers will know what to expect and will need no further recommendation.