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Toru TAKEMITSU ( 1930-1996)
Chamber Music

And Then I Knew ’twas Wind, for Flute, Viola and Harp.
Rain Tree, for Three Percussion Players.
Toward the Sea, for Alto Flute and Guitar.
Bryce, for Flute, Two Harps, Marimba and Percussion.
Itinerant, for Solo Flute.
Voice, for Solo Flute.
Air, for solo Flute.
Rain Spell, for Flute, Clarinet, Harp, Piano and Vibraphone.
Toronto New Music Ensemble
Robert Aitken (Flute)
Recorded at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, Toronto, Canada and St. John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Canada, June and August 2002. DDD
NAXOS 8.555859 [71:28]


Like Wagner the Japanese composer Takemitsu polarises musical opinion. So many people state that they either like or don’t like his music. With Takemitsu views seem so black and white with very little shades of opinion in-between.

I recall reading how Takemitsu’s music achieves wonderful and significant balances. Firstly a balance between the music of the West and Eastern cultures and secondly a balance is struck between silence and activity. Takemitsu strives to reflect the sounds of the natural world in his music with frequent use of descriptive titles such as ‘Wind’, ‘Trees’, ‘Rain’, ‘Water’ and ‘Air’.

At first hearing Takemitsu’s music can seem extremely accessible, an approachability that belies hidden depths of the activity contained within. Fast tempos provided no lure for Takemitsu and virtually all his output is a sedate wash of sound that contains an abundance of ebb and flow. However, the relative lack of traditional structures in Takemitsu’s musical language can present difficulties to some listeners.

This Naxos release comprises eight colourful chamber works, seven of which feature the flute, most of which were composed for his Canadian based friend the flautist Robert Aitken. The booklet notes inform the listener that the majority of the works were not only performed for Takemitsu by the musicians on this recording but they benefited from the composer’s interpretive insights.

The first and the longest work on this release is And Then I Knew ’twas Wind, for flute, viola and harp which was composed in 1992. Takemitsu uses identical instrumentation to that of the 1916 sonata of Debussy, with which it is meant to be coupled in a recital programme.

This early 1981 version of Rain Tree is the only work on this recording that doesn’t contain a flute. Here Takemitsu uses an unusual combination of three percussion instruments; a crotales, a vibraphone and a pair of marimbas.

Toward the Sea, is a three movement work in a version prepared for alto flute and guitar which continues Takemitsu’s fascination with water themes.

Bryce, for flute, two harps, marimba and percussion was dedicated to Bryce Engelman the son of the marimba player Robin Engelman. The score contains an extended cadenza for the flute and calls for some improvisation from the players.

The three separate works for solo flute Itinerant, Voice and Air display the distinct styles that Takemitsu had developed during the course of his career.

The final work on the release is Rain Spell, for flute, clarinet, harp, piano and vibraphone. The subject of water, which was a continuing fascination for the composer throughout his career, is the predominant theme of the score.

These compositions from Takemitsu are primarily mood and image pieces which may not contain sufficient forward momentum to necessarily sustain the attention of everyone. Contrastingly what some listeners may find to be satisfyingly meditative others may find to be soporific. What some listeners may find hauntingly beautiful another may find uncomfortably distant and what some may find imaginative and evocative of aspects of nature another may find insipid and lacking in variety. Be warned Takemitsu is not for everyone!

That said, for those who wish to take the plunge into Takemitsu’s calm waters this recording is as good as it gets. The eminent and talented players of the Toronto New Music Ensemble provide performances out of the top drawer with Robert Aitken not surprisingly stealing the show with flute playing of the highest quality. The Naxos engineers have done a fine job providing a clear and well balanced sound.

Sheer pleasure for Takemitsu lovers with ideal performances and handsomely recorded too.

Michael Cookson


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