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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.