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CD Review

Tōru Takemitsu

  • Spirit Garden
  • Solitude Sonore
  • Three Film Scores for String Orchestra
  • Dreamtime
  • A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop
Naxos 8.557760 DDD 62:37
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Simply gorgeous. Alsop and Naxos bring the music of Tōru Takemitsu to the masses with this desirable release. This is an excellent disc to try if you have not heard his music before, but are interested in some of his most approachable (yet characteristic) music. The earliest work, Solitude Sonore, was composed in 1958, and the latest, Spirit Garden, in 1994, so quite a long time period is covered here.

Takemitsu was influenced by the music of his native Japan, as well as by Debussy and Berg. His music often recalls that of Olivier Messiaen, another influence. That is particularly true for Spirit Garden, which opens this CD. (He called it his "experiment with and ongoing inquiry into orchestral color and melody.") The music is based on a 12-note-row, which in turn is used to construct three chords, each containing four notes. This might sound dry, and reminiscent of the worst aspects of the Second Viennese School, but let me assure you, it is anything but. This is music that you can soak in, like a warm bath with scented oils.

I have not seen Solitude Sonore recorded before – is this a first recording? Relatively short (6:32 here), it finds Takemitsu spreading his wings and trying out ideas that he would explore more fully later on. It was inspired by Toshiro Mayuzumi's Mandala Symphony – another excellent Japanese work!

Takemitsu was a film buff, and he wrote several film scores. "Music of Training and Rest" (languidly conducted by Alsop) from José Torres sounds like it might have been written by Bernard Herrmann. The "Funeral Music" from the post-Hiroshima film Black Rain folds Takemitsu's style into Herrmann-like sonorities. Face of Another is represented by a dark "Waltz" – it made me think of Shostakovich!

Dreamtime (1981) is named for death and the afterlife as they are conceived of by the aboriginal people of Australia. Originally, it was used as a ballet score. This music feels more loosely constructed than the other selections on this CD; it seems to follow its own dream logic, if you will. If possible, the orchestral sonorities Takemitsu creates here are even more gorgeous than usual….

A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden (1977) is one of Takemitsu's most famous works. Here the "flock"is a theme first presented by the oboe, while the "pentagonal garden" is created from five-note scales, mostly by the strings. Takemitsu described the music as a "shifting panorama of scenes," and that is a good description. However, as much as the scenes may change, there is a coherence here that makes the piece flow on with inevitability.

Alsop's performances can stand alongside any already on the market. She has a beautiful feel for Takemitsu's language, and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (of which she has been the Principal Conductor since 2002) responds to her direction and to the music. There's no shortage of color in these readings. With excellent engineering to show off the musicianship, there is no reason not to recommend this CD with enthusiasm.

Copyright © 2006, Raymond Tuttle