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Satoshi TANAKA (b. 1956)
Works for Piano
Grisaille [9:51]
Levitation [7:02]
Psalms [7:06]
The Afterworld [6:51]
The Hour of Silence III [13:42]
Epitaph [7:20]
Oracle [7:31]
Satoko Inoue (piano)
Rec. 26-27 June 2012, Auditorio Centro Cultural La Marina, Caja Espana, Caja Duero, Zamora, Spain
EMEC E-112 [59:43]

The opening item here, Grisaille (2004) is a most spare and meditative piece of music, a succession of single notes (sometimes two together) with a constant slow pulse, with little of conventional harmonic or rhythmic interest to disturb the detached and austere mood. The succeeding pieces are in the same vein. The effect is one of timelessness, which is not easy to achieve in an art which exists only in time. It would in fact be an interesting experiment in the psychology of time perception to play Grisaille to a group of friends, and ask them afterwards how long had passed since the start. Levitation (2006) is similar in pulse but opens with a discord as a sort of portal to the single mostly unharmonised line, and other chords occasionally punctuate that line – but it feels like punctuation rather than harmonic direction. Psalms (2007) and The Afterworld (2009) continue this manner and atmosphere, and the four pieces were subsequently published as Tanaka’s “Four Pieces for Piano”.

The largest piece here The Hour of Silence III is also much the earliest, coming from 1984, and Tanaka also wrote an orchestral “Hour of Silence”, a title which could almost have been attached to the whole disc. The composer’s brief booklet note says that at that time and with that piece his concern -
“was strong in musical form and its structure. But when I compose Grisaille and other pieces,“my interest has shifted to the tone colour. In my music, techniques hardly come out in the front, but it results in how performer has feeling for tone colour, time and space. “

That might be a slightly imperfect translation from the Japanese, but it gives a fair indication of Tanaka’s artistic aim and manner, in which the sensuous harmonic appeal of much Western music is quite subjugated to, and the excitements of musical motion and counterpoint are replaced by, a sustained, concentrated stasis. On one level it almost redefines how you listen to music, focusing on the exact colour of a note and its successors, even the silent spaces between the notes. The lines are non-melodic, as a CD which appears to have tuned in to an hour of extra-terrestrial communication in an undecipherable language, and captured part of a message which began aeons before, and continues somewhere still. It is extraordinary, daring, and ultimately rather compelling. I was reminded of Schonberg’s comment about first composing atonal (as opposed to twelve tonal) music; “I had only my ear to guide me”.

The clear, truthful, intimate sound of the 2012 recording serves well this music’s need for the capture of nuance and subtlety. I suspect Satoko Inoue’s playing could hardly be better for such music; intensely concentrated, with the feeling for line and colour (across the full range of the keyboard), touch and pedalling, all in the service of Tanaka’s unique vision of silence made audible. An issue for all the explorers, seers and mystics out there.

Roy Westbrook

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