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
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.
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
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