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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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In the late 1990's and early 2000's, DG's 20/21 series was a fine way of putting new and recent music on the market. Composer Tōru Takemitsu featured regularly on these albums; two volumes devoted to him were reviewed by Mr. Raymond Tuttle on these very pages in 2005. Here is a third. Unfortunately, the composer still gets little exposure, despite an always sincere and innovative musical language. He gets tossed around on other composer's albums, or is seemingly relegated to the dreaded "new music" sections. I myself found this in the bargain bin at a local resale shop, a reflection of how we (and I am certainly guilty, too) look at modern music. So I'll be frank. This is ravishing, important music that is worth every penny I paid for it, and more.

Oliver Knussen is one of those conductors who, because he champions modern and unusual repertoire, is doomed to be unknown. About the closest he has come to recording mainstream music is Mussorgsky, and even then he leans toward novel arrangements and orchestrations. But he is a talented composer and conductor, perhaps the most notable champion of Takemitsu after Ozawa, and an important figure on today's musical stage. He conducts his London forces with genuine feeling and care. Takemitsu was – especially in his late period – concerned with creating a unique sound world with a rich combination of East and West. Knussen, who has proved he can enter the sound worlds of others with ease (witness his Stokowski disc, also on DG), makes this music shine.

This program was designed for continuous listening; the major pieces are flanked by two elegant brass fanfares, and the whole disc really does play like a huge, beautifully painted symphony. But each work, with its different scoring, instrumentation, and mood, stands successfully alone. Quotation of Dream is the standout for me, a puzzlingly elegant tribute to Debussy's La Mer, and to Takemitsu's own earlier works. La Mer meets Japan. But every single selection has something to offer listeners. Twill by Twilight is especially haunting. The sound is exceptional, by the way, and the solo and orchestral contributions are generally first-class. This may be outside of your chosen musical comfort zone. I don't usually review this kind of music at all. But so intelligent is the programming and music-making, that this disc deserves a listen, and maybe a good deal more than that.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman