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Toshio HOSOKAWA (b. 1955)
Silent Flowers (1998) [13:16]
Landscape I (1992) [11:17]
Landscape V (1993)a [15:31]
Urbilder (1980) [14:56]
Blossoming (2006/7) [14:04]
Mayumi Miyata (shô)a; Quatuor Diotima
rec. live, Grosser Saal, Mozarteum, Salzburg, 19 March 2009 (Landscape V) and Stefanuskirche, Munich, 23-25 March 2009 (other works)
NEOS 11072 [69:37]

Toshio Hosokawa often mentions Oriental calligraphy rather than Eastern poetry as an important influence on his music. This is particularly evident in a number of pieces for solo instruments sharing the title of Sen, a word that refers to a brush-stroke which is of varying density. A brush-stroke may begin with a heavy gesture and end with a thinner line. This is reflected in Hosokawa's music as an audible ‘signature’ - as in the various Sen pieces. It also serves as a ‘mechanism’ moving from brute noise into openly musical sound. This is quite often to be heard here with the possible exception of Blossoming that is both the most recent work and also the most accessible. 

The earliest work here is the composer's first official string quartet, Urbilder composed in 1980. Although in a single span of a quarter of an hour the piece falls into five short, delineated movements set out in a traditional arch-form. It goes through different climates before returning to the music of its opening: in other words, before returning to its original silence. 

Hosokawa composed, and still does so, a number of works titled Landscape for various instrumental forces. Incidentally he also composed several works for orchestra as well as for soloist and orchestra sharing the German title of Landschaft, the German for landscape. Landscape I for string quartet was completed in 1992. It opens assertively - “a sharp opening impulse followed by a rest”; again this is a trait related to calligraphy. The music is, on the whole, more goal-orientated than in some other works by this composer who nevertheless always has a clear idea as to the finality of his narrative process.
Landscape V is for shô and string quartet. According to the composer this was inspired by paintings of Mark Rothko in which two almost identical colours merge. It was also inspired by the composer's watching of drifting clouds, overlapping and variously tinged by the setting sun. True the rather limited range of the shô - an Oriental mouth organ - does not allow for much more than more or less long held notes of varying dynamic. The work, however, is perfectly viable and quite satisfying. 

Silent Flowers
of 1998 may be the most 'difficult' work here in that it is the one that - to my mind - is the most closely related to calligraphy. It opens with hesitant brush-strokes: noised sounds interspersed with silences. The music proceeds in this way for some two-thirds of the piece when it then reaches its climax, a dazzling flowering that soon disappears into silence. No easy work, this, but one worth investigating. 

In almost total contrast, Flowering perfectly lives up to its title. “The piece elaborates the metaphor of flowering using the image of a lotus, the symbol of purity emerging from ooze, growing toward the light above the surface of the water and bursting into flower.” The music quite aptly relies on canonic melodic form to depict the melodic process of blossoming, but “there is always a backdrop of sustained lines or sonorities”. Flowering is the most attractive and readily accessible work in this very fine release and it makes for a quite beautiful conclusion to a disc that may not always be an easy listen. Ultimately though it is quite rewarding if listened to with open ears and open heart.
A number of my comments have been drawn from the excellent insert notes and adapted in an attempt to be as direct as possible in trying to describe the music. 

Excellent, strongly committed and meticulously prepared performances from the Quatuor Diotima that do full justice to these often complex but also beautiful works. 

Hubert Culot