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Toru TAKEMITSU (1930-1996)
A String Around Autumn, for viola and orchestra (1989)
I Hear the Water Dreaming, for flute and orchestra (1987)
A Way a Lone II, for string orchestra (1981)
Riverrun (1984), for piano and orchestra
Sharon Bezaly (flute), Philip Dukes (viola), Noriko Ogawa (piano)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Tadaaki Otaka
Recorded February, April, June 2002, Brangwyn Hall, Swansea
BIS CD-1300 [59.49]


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The music of Takemitsu successfully bridged the cultures and philosophies of east and west, and few composers of our time created music of such fascination and colour. The majority of his large output of compositions were related to natural phenomena in one way or another, often by referring to the sounds of nature that inform our living environment.

The most important influences on Takemitsu's musical language were Debussy and Webern, Messiaen and Cage. Almost all his music was conventionally scored, and he showed a preference for using individual instruments in solo or obbligato roles. Beauty of sound and tranquillity of mood were also particular features of his art, and for the newcomer this beautifully engineered CD therefore offers an excellent introduction.

I hear the water dreaming was commissioned by the American flautist Paula Robinson, who gave the first performance in April 1987. This is another example of Takemitsu's interest in creating beautiful, mobile evocations of the natural world. From the beginning, the flute weaves filigree lines against the shifting background of the colourful, pointillist orchestral fabric. Although the orchestral contribution is restrained in both dynamic and texture, the instrumentation calls for a large ensemble, including three percussionists, two harps and celesta, which is most effectively balanced in the recorded perspective.

These points might readily be made of the remaining performances, though there are subtle changes in perspective and colour brought about by the particular orchestral-solo combinations. For example Riverrun features the solo piano of Noriko Ogawa, one of the finest pianists of the younger generation, who is closely associated with Takemitsu's piano music. Like the string orchestra piece, A Way a Lone, this is associated with Joyce's ‘Finnegan's Wake’, and in his carefully researched notes Leif Hasselgren makes appropriate observations about the relationship between the two artists.

Given the contrasted sounds of piano and orchestra, it is no surprise that Riverrun is the most conventionally concertante of these pieces. The solo viola in A String Around Autumn, very well played by Philipl Dukes, blends more naturally with its surroundings, of course, just as Takemitsu intended that it should. At nearly 18 minutes this is the longest of the four pieces offered here. The performance seems perfectly judged, but that might be said of the others also. For having worked with this orchestra for many years, Otaka has developed the kind of close relationship with his players that allows music as subtle and under-stated as this to make its own point in its own way. That is no easy task of course. Moreover it is somehow reassuring that in so ephemeral and vulgar a society as ours, music such as this still holds evident value.

Terry Barfoot

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