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Art Lange
Fanfare, June 2004

These works are very atmospheric and listener-friendly…flutist Robert Aitken has long been a masterful practitioner of contemporary music, and he does a marvelous job dealing with the micro tones, bent notes, melismatic phrasing, and thickening and thinning of tone that make Takemitsu’s use of the instrument so engaging. He imbues the three solo works, Itinerant, Air, and especially Voice, containing Noh-flavored vocal injections, with a tranquil tension that may be oxymoronic in description but is altogether convincing in practice. Another detail that sets this disc apart from its competition is the program selection. Working with the varied instrumentation of the Toronto New Music Ensemble allows Aitken to include several pieces not normally found on recordings of Takemitsu’s flute music…one must take into account Naxos’s budget price, which should seduce both Takemitsu aficionados and those newly curious about his music to purchase this easily recommendable disc.

William Dart
The New Zealand Herald, March 2004

There are 72 minutes of exquisite sound on the new Naxos recording of Takemitsu’s chamber music—you will fall under their spell in the first few seconds of the opening track, And Then I Knew ’Twas Wind, with its harp notes pinging and then floating away to nothingness…its heady rushes of colour and lyrical episodes are exquisitely balanced by flautist Robert Aitken and his colleagues from Toronto New Music Ensemble…The three pieces of Toward the Sea, given a stirring performance by Aitken on alto flute and Norbert Kraft on guitar, find their inspiration in Melville’s Moby Dick and the sea off Cape Cod.

Paul Driver
, November 2003

…the fineness of realisation of these typically brief forms…is consistently haunting.

Barry Witherden
Gramophone, October 2003

Outstanding release that showcases these musicians’ empathy with Takemitsu’s world

Much of Takemitsu’s later music exhibited a softening around the edges, yet the self-confessed Romantic never lost the power to enchant, continuing to conjure sounds capes of otherworldly beauty right to the end. I’d argue in favour of a lower-case romanticism: his work in the final decade of his life was gentle, full of tenderness, sentiment and sighs rather than the elemental, flagellatory melodrama of Romanticism with a capital Aah! He never entirely discarded the starker beauty of his earlier work, though. Air, premièred 23 days before he died, distills much of the spirit of his music, evoking the French Impressionists, modernist asceticism and the pared-down elegance of Japanese traditional music and gardens. It was written for flautist Aurèle Nicolet and first played in public by Yasukazu Uemura, but it is hard to imagine Robert Aitken’s performance being bettered.

Aitken invited Takemitsu to Canada in 1975 and 1983. From these visits grew a special relationship with the musicians featured on this outstanding album. They performed most of these works for the composer, so we can assume that the interpretations bear the hallmark of authenticity: they certainly sound utterly convincing to me, with their perfect balance of the technical (sharply focused realisations of dots on lines) and the emotional (restrained but warm evocations of the non-musical under-pinnings). Itinerant (1989) is a case in point: Takemitsu pictures a garden where vegetable and mineral, motion and stability mingle in precisely designed harmony, yet each visitor’s perspective discovers a fresh view.

The programming is as admirable as the playing, surveying Takemitsu’s music for small forces from 1971 (Voice, with its references to Noh theatre) to 1995 (Air). From the pastoral, slightly eerie trio for flute, viola and harp And Then I Knew—devised as a companion-piece to Debussy’s 1915 Sonata for the same instruments—and the shimmering, celestial Rain Tree, to Rain Spell, brooding and turbulent in turns, this is yet another excellent 20th-century showcase from Naxos.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group