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Takashi YOSHIMATSU (b. 1953)
The Age of Birds Op.25 (1986)
Cello Concerto Centaurus Unit * Op.91 (2003)
Chikap Op.14a (1981, rev. 2003)
* Peter Dixon (cello)
BBC Philharmonic/Sachio Fujioka
Rec. Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, November 2003. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10202 [65:27]

Takashi Yoshimatsu was born in Tokyo and is a largely self-taught composer with a style which has been described as "Neo-Romantic". His music has more Western influence and is less obviously of Japanese origin than his compatriot Toru Takemitsu. On this evidence it is at least as approachable - Yoshimatsu has been called the "Japanese Hovhaness" and this does not seem far off the mark.

The most substantial work on this disc is the Cello Concerto, which was completed in August and premiered in October 2003. It is sandwiched between two earlier works which form parts two and three of a "Bird trilogy" – Chikap and The Age of Birds. The first work in this series, Threnody to Toki, has been recorded previously by Chandos. For this record, interesting notes on the music are provided by the composer but there is no biographical information.

The Age of Birds and Chikap are episodic but evocative works which use the full range of orchestral colour without adding extraneous sounds (unlike Rautavaara, for example, whose Concerto for Birds and Orchestra uses taped bird sounds). However, the atmosphere created seems closer to Rautavaara than Messiaen (a great imitator of bird calls). Both works have three movements, and in The Age of Birds they have titles (I. Sky II. Trees III. Sun) indicating the relationships between birds and nature which are being depicted. Chikap is the word for bird in Ainu, an aboriginal language from Hokkaido. The work is written using the theory of septaphony (as opposed to dodecaphony) and there are no chords – only "harmonic clusters".

The Cello Concerto is subtitled Centaurus Unit based on the relation between the cello and the human body. The composer envisions an upper body being human (the cellist) in conjunction with the lower body of a brown horse (the cello). He goes on to mention inspirations from Bach’s and Dvořák’s works for the cello, the sound of the biwa or Japanese Lute, the chanting of Buddhist monks and the reciting of the Koran. None of these were immediately obvious to me but I found the work to be impressive and original. It is cast almost classically in three movements (fast, slow, fast) and is structurally cohesive. I have read reviews complaining that Yoshimatsu’s symphonies are not symphonic but this is clearly a real concerto. The piece does not seem to require particularly great virtuosity from the soloist but this could just reflect the skill of Peter Dixon, the dedicatee. He plays it with great poise and conviction, and is very well accompanied by Sachio Fujioka. The orchestral playing of the BBC Philharmonic is of a very high standard throughout and the recording is also excellent.

This is a disc of music straddling East and West which is beautifully played and full of interest. In my view, Yoshimatsu’s Cello Concerto is an important new work. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the cello and/or contemporary music. For a style which is more obviously Japanese, seek out the music of Takemitsu.

Patrick C Waller


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