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Toru TAKEMITSU (1930-1996)
Rain Coming for chamber orchestra (1982)
Archipelago S for 21 players (1993)
Fantasma/Cantos 2 for trombone and orchestra (1994)
Requiem for strings (1957)
How slow the Wind for orchestra (1991)
Tree Line for chamber orchestra (1988)

Christian Lindberg, trombone
Kioi Sinfonietta conducted by Tadaaki Otaka
Recorded February 2000 in the Kioi Hall, Tokyo, Japan.
BIS BIS-CD-1078 DDD [71:39]
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Since Toru Takemitsu passed away in 1996 a steady stream of recordings has been released, several of which have met with considerable acclaim. This disc has added interest by virtue of its combination of Japanese orchestra with Japanese conductor, and it makes for fascinating listening.

My initial reaction, after first hearing the disc, was to rush to the CD cabinet for the 1998 London Sinfonietta recording (Deutsche Grammophon 20/21 453 495-2) which features two works common to both discs, Archipelago S and How Slow The Wind. In the case of the DG the conductor is Oliver Knussen and there can be few people around who know Takemitsu's music as well as he. As always, his performances are painstakingly prepared and warmly recorded. What also struck me immediately was that Knussen's free-flowing tempos shave well over a minute off Otaka's more relaxed approach to the metronome markings. Otaka, however, brings to the surface the crystalline beauty of Takemitsu's wonderfully transparent scoring, immaculately conceived and constructed in the manner of his beloved Japanese gardens and in contrast with Knussen's darker hued readings.

Archipelago S is particularly effective in this respect, being Takemitsu's response, on several levels, to the beauty of the archipelago of Stockholm, Seattle and the islands of the Seto Inland Sea of Japan. The work is antiphonal in its conception, with two mixed ensembles that face each other, a brass quintet and two clarinets that are placed behind the audience on either side. The five "islands" call out to each other throughout the work, completing phrases and answering each other from a distance and although the true spatial effects of the scoring are lost in a recording such as this the unusual orchestration is still highly effective. There are some ravishing sounds here and subtle effects in abundance, the players clearly enjoying the unique beauty of Takemitsu's sound world.

How slow the Wind was inspired by the verse of Emily Dickinson, "How slow the wind, how slow the sea, how late their feathers be!" It is a work imbued with a subtle sense of awe, a journey through darkness to light ("a milk white light in the midst of darkness") as the composer put it, the gently changing procession, in which Takemitsu's basic melodic material is always clearly audible, finally transforming itself quite magically into a D flat major chord at the very end. The closing couple of minutes, in particular, are wonderfully played with fine attention to the myriad detail in the composer's intricate and delicate scoring.

Of the two other works for chamber orchestra, Tree Line and Rain Coming, both hail from the 1980s. Rain Coming is the earlier of the two and is one of several related pieces from around the same time each concerning rain. The working of the harmonic and melodic material here is more concentrated than in the later works on the disc but the characteristic and very personal language is the same. Tree Line takes its title from a row of acacia trees that lined the slopes near the composer's workshop, trees being another common thread running through several of his works. Melodically, listeners will notice that there are links between Tree Line and How Slow the Wind, of three years later, another Takemitsu trait. This is also one of the most evocatively explicit of his nature pictures, the sounds of his environment evident throughout the piece, from the rustling of the leaves to the birdsong which was no doubt audible as he composed.

Fantasma/Cantos 2 was one of Takemitsu's last compositions and takes the form of a lyrical concerto for solo trombone. A little over sixteen minutes in length, the work is possibly inspired in part by the composer's reminiscences of hearing Jack Teagarden in his youth although these influences are thoughtfully distilled into his own familiar language. Takemitsu was terminally ill by this time yet this work comes across as one of his lighter expressions, the central cadenza for the soloist particularly effective in its use of wide-ranging effects. As always Christian Lindberg's performance is of a high standard technically if a little detached emotionally. By contrast the Requiem for strings which follows stems from 1957, early in Takemitsu's career. This is a work of moving pathos for one so young (Takemitsu was twenty-six at the time of its composition) but as the booklet notes point out he had already experienced serious illness. In its solemnity the piece seems to point to the fragility of not just the composer but of life itself. The performance here is equally deeply felt.

At over seventy-one minutes playing time this is a generously filled disc that gives an excellent overview of Takemitsu's considerable output for chamber orchestra. His profoundly personal and largely contemplative language is such that listening in one sitting demands considerable concentration but Tadaaki Otaka draws finely wrought performances from his young orchestra (founded in 1995) which demonstrate admirable clarity and sensitivity to the intricacies of Takemitsu's sound painting.

Christopher Thomas

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