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CD Review

Tōru Takemitsu

Orchestral Works

  • Day Signal (Signals from Heaven I)
  • Quotation of Dream *
  • How Slow the Wind
  • Twill by Twilight
  • Archipelago S
  • Dream/Window
  • Night Signal (Signals from Heaven II)
* Paul Crossley, piano
* Peter Serkin, piano
London Sinfonietta/Oliver Knussen
Deutsche Grammophon 453495-2
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If you have not yet had the pleasure of encountering the music of the Tōru Takemitsu (1930-1996), this recent CD, part of Deutsche Grammophon's new 20/21 series, is an excellent place to start. It contains seven pieces from the last part of the Japanese composer's career, ranging from Dream/Window (1985), a representation of the city of Kyoto, to the supremely haunting Archipelago S. (1993).

These seven pieces present Takemitsu as a sort of latter day Debussy, or, in any event, as a musical impressionist extraordinaire. Luminous timbres, hazy outlines, rapturous emotions, and nevertheless precise calculations are what these dreams are made of. The Japanese garden is a frequently evoked metaphor – again, an art form whose artlessness is great art indeed. In Quotation of Dream, never before recorded, the composer folds fragments of Debussy's La Mer so seamlessly into the larger structure that the effect is transcendental, and not at all outrageous. It's a fascinating look at the relationship between an object and the object's context. Or, to use Takemitsu's metaphor again, there are gardens in which the landscape outside of the garden's borders must be taken into consideration when appraising the total artistic effect.

The mysteriously christened Twill by Twilight is a tribute to Morton Feldman, the American composer whose metaphysical outlook and frugality with notes made him spiritual kin to Takemitsu. Although their music only infrequently sounds similar, one feels that they were rowing toward similar aesthetic goals.

Superficially, the pieces on this disc tend to blur into each other, even though Takemitsu has scored them rather differently. This music initially may present itself as one long sigh. However, attentive listening (perhaps supplemented by Knussen's highly articulate annotations) reveals the keys that unlock the unique personalities of each individual work. It is best, then, not to listen to this disc straight through until one has spent concentrated time with each of its components.

Knussen, one of Takemitsu's favorite musicians, is a superb conductor for this repertoire, and the musicians of the London Sinfonietta respond sensitively. Crossley and Serkin play important roles in Quotation of Dream, and they do so with the concentration of Zen masters. The engineering provides warm yet detailed sound. As with other 20/21 releases, Deutsche Grammophon's packaging moves away from the traditional jewel box in favor of an attractive fold-out format.

Not to be missed.

Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle