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TAN Dun (b. 1957)
Concerto for String Orchestra and Pipa (1999)a [20:21]
Tōru TAKEMITSU (1930–1996)

Nostalgia (1987)b [16:13]
Three Film Scores (1994/5) [11:07]
Hikaru HAYASHI (b. 1931)

Concerto "Elegia" (1995)c [30:18]
Wu Nan (pipa)a; Yuri Bashmet (violinb, violac)
Moscow Soloists/Roman Balashovbc
rec. Schloss Neuhardenberg, Berlin, Germany, 26-28 September 2007. DDD
ONYX 4027 [77:59]

Experience Classicsonline


Tan Dun is a highly prolific and versatile composer with a considerable output to his credit including orchestral music, concertos, vocal works, chamber music, operas as well as some noteworthy film scores. He often refers to old Chinese music, albeit viewed through the prism of contemporary music in an attempt to bridge the cultural gap between Eastern and Western musical traditions. The Pipa Concerto recorded here is no exception in this respect, were it only because of the use of a traditional Chinese instrument as soloist. It is a thorough reworking of a slightly earlier work, Ghost Opera for pipa and string quartet. This has been recast into four movements instead of five, and the string players are also requested to contribute "stomps, yips, yells, sighs and hand-slaps" thus emphasising the theatrical nature of the earlier work inspired, so we are told, by "the 4000-year-old tradition of Taoist funerals in which shamans communicate with spirits past and future". Some episodes of the concerto obviously have a ritualistic character, but the piece as a whole is best experienced as abstract music. The third movement, the concerto’s slow centre, blends a pentatonic tune with the Prelude in C sharp minor from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. The pipa is silent for some time during the Bach episode and re-enters with its own version of Bach’s tune. The concerto concludes in a somewhat livelier mood.

Takemitsu’s Nostalgia for violin and strings, commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin, was written as a tribute to the Russian film director Andrey Tarkovsky whose last completed film was entitled Nostalgia. This lovely and deeply-felt work is appropriately elegiac throughout and the music unfolds quietly as so much else in Takemitsu’s output.

Takemitsu composed many film scores between 1956 and 1995. Some certainly remember his Mahler-inflected score for Kurosawa’s Ran (1985). In 1994-1995 he arranged three excerpts from some earlier film scores as Three Film Scores for string orchestra heard here and first performed by the English String Orchestra conducted by William Boughton in 1995. The three movements are Music of Training and Rest from Jose Torres (1959, director Hiroshi Teshigahara), Funeral Music from Black Rain (1989, director Shohei Imamura) and Waltz from Face of Another (1966, director Hiroshi Teshigahara). The first ‘movement’ is something of a rarity in Takemitsu’s output in that it includes some fast and vigorous music, whereas Funeral Music is an effective threnody with mild dissonance - the film is about the effects of the Hiroshima bomb’s radiation on a young woman who walked through the city’s ruins. In Face of Another, the leading character has suffered facial injury in an industrial accident and attempts to obtain a new face through plastic surgery. The Waltz suggesting the sense of loss of normality has slightly surreal overtones.

I must now admit that Hayashi’s name and music are completely new to me, so that I cannot tell you much about his output and his music in general. The music of his fairly substantial Viola Concerto "Elegia" heard here is rather indebted to that of some East-European composers, such as Bartók and even Janáček; none the worse for that. The work is cast as a diptych. The viola’s dark-hued meditation opening the first panel is underpinned by pizzicato strings, but the music progressively gains momentum and develops further into a more animated section although the music remains mostly lyrical. The second panel opens with a long song-like melody played by the viola over a "pendulum-like" accompaniment in the strings. This basic material is developed and varied until the viola introduces a new theme with a slightly oriental flavour. Further development ensues until a cadenza-like episode is reached. The elegiac mood of the opening is resumed, albeit with variations, and the concerto ends quietly. Hayashi’s Viola Concerto does not break any new ground; but, judging by its merits, I would certainly like to hear more of his music. This is a most welcome addition to the viola’s repertoire.

The performances of these often beautiful works are excellent throughout and the recording is quite fine. There is much splendid music-making to be enjoyed in this very fine release. Well worth more than the occasional hearing.

Hubert Culot




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