, 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.