TAKEMITSU: Quotation of Dream for 2 pianos and orchestra (1991). Twill by Twilight for large orchestra (1988). Dream/ Window for orchestra (1985). How Slow the Wind for chamber orchestra (1991). Archipelago S. for 21 players (1993). Day Signal and Night Signal for antiphonal brass groups (1987)
Peter Serkin, Paul Crossley, pianos (Quotation); London Sinfonietta, Oliver Knussen/cond.
Deutsche Grammophon "20/21" 459 570  [F] [DDD]  TT: 71:0

TAKEMITSU: From me flows what you call Time for percussion ensemble and orchestra (1990). Twill by Twilight (in Memory of Morton Feldman). Requiem for String Orchestra (1957).
Nexus, percussion quintet; Pacific Symphony Orchestra, Carl St.Clair/cond. Sony Classics SK 63044 [F] [DDD] TT: 61:51

  The conductors of these two memorial discs—Toru Takemitsu died on February 20, 1996, in his 66th year—are masterful interpreters of the greatest Japanese composer since Nippon opened to the West in the 19th century. Both have excellent orchestras at their bidding. A single work is common to both, Twill by Twilight—"in memory of one of my good friends and a very unique composer, Morton Feldman," who died the year prior to this fulfillment of this commission for the 25th anniversary of the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra. If it's cerebral music you expect to hear, take heart: Takemitsu seldom put on display a formidable intellect he applied to the creation of all kinds of music, whether for the concert stage, chamber ensembles, or films which were his lifelong passion. (He scored 93 beginning in 1956, with a range of styles you can sample, and be surprised by, on a Nonesuch sampler issued in 1997.) 

Describing his title Twill by Twilight, Takemitsu wrote, "The twill weave of the music takes effect by means of an extremely limited musical unit—or what we might better call the musical principle which exists prior to the forming of the melody or the taking shape of the rhythm. Subtle variations in pastel-like colors express the moment just after sunset, when twilight turns toward darkness." Pictorial images accompanied virtually all of his music, following a Webern period in the late '50s and early '60s that produced atomized sounds—hardly ever "pretty" in the context of his later music, which acknowledged Debussy (Jeux in particular) and Olivier Messiaen as points of departure.

While his titles may seem arcane at first glance, most are pictographically rooted. He was my Chicago houseguest for 10 memorable days in 1969, which gave birth to Cassiopeia for solo percussionist (Stomu Yamash’ta) and orchestra—actually four orchestras arranged spatially with percussion in the middle, just like the constellation he envisioned. Takemitsu had dreamt that inspiration, he told us one morning with a wide smile, after several days of abstracted concentration. In the tradition of Asterism, this music turned out to be dense, dissonant, at moments ferocious—the most neglected of his major works, because there has never been another Yamash'ta to play it (who did so only twice, at the Ravinia Festival premiere in 1971, and two months before that at a Tokyo recording session for EMI with Seiji Ozawa conducting, never released in the west).

Asterism (which he confided to me was the musical depiction of a nervous breakdown after 1966) and Cassiopeia were transitional works, a bridge from Webernisms for pianists and chamber groups plus some musique concrète. (The latter includes his hilariously scatological, scandalous Vocalism: Ai for spoken voices, which NHK banned when they discovered what several sound-alike words meant in other languages.)

All of the music on these two recent discs—except for Requiem, Takemitsu's first concert work composed in 1957—comes from the last decade of his life, when, in the lyrical prose of DG's annotator, his music had become "enigmatic, murmuring and ever-flowing currents of sound [that] recede into silence…colors of such breathtaking quality that the sound becomes almost palpable."

His works never sound quite the same way twice—neither do Debussy's if you think about it—which is their great strength rather than a sign of weakness. Takemitsu used a large orchestra in many works, starting with Arc in 1966 for piano and orchestra, but he used their resources abstemiously—the opposite of such opulent colorists as Korngold or Richard Strauss. Takemitsu was literally a spellbinder, even in a work that borrows as overtly as Quotation of Dream (from Debussy's La mer—surprise, not Jeux). Again, the sleeping poet awoke inspired to write.

All of his elliptical titles make sense when you discover the root of their meaning in two very solid sets of program notes. Deutsche Grammophon's—not in a plastic jewel case but in an intricate cardboard structure that invites dust onto the disc-surface once the seal is broken—give you more (but be warned: a dithyramb on the inside jacket implies that conductor Knussen rather than Takemitsu wrote the 12-part Quotation, dedicated to pianists Peter Serkin and Paul Crossley, who were so close to Toru and his music). Elsewhere, Knussen himself is as keenly verbal about this music as he is a keenly attuned interpreter.

Interesting points of departure between St.Clair and Knussen: in Twill the California maestro takes 14:42, whereas his London-based colleague needs only 12:39. Neither one is right or wrong—both pursue individual expressive ends. St.Clair's orchestra, resident in the Orange Country Performing Arts Center at Costa Mesa, California, is richer in sound yet never distractingly so. And their performance of From me flows what you call Time, a concerto for Nexus to play during the centennial season at Carnegie Hall, is breath-stoppingly gorgeous. Of the seven works and two fanfares on this pair of discs, From me is my favorite, sharing a special shrine with Spirit Garden (on a Denon CD co-featuring Gemeaux and the first-ever recording of Dream/Window).

It may amuse you that the last-named disc was a handoff from R.E.B., who dislikes Takemitsu as much as I dislike Ilya Muromets (allow me a phonetic English selling rather than the phonetic French of that behemoth). But hey, that's what makes a ballgame, as A. Nony Mous once ever so wisely opined. As for Takemitsu and Gliere (and the Gobi desert and Japan Sea that separate them), each had his artistic vision. If I prefer Takemitsu's dream-begotten world of dawns and sunsets and pentagonal (as well as spirit) gardens, it is the nature of this website that we cheerleaders can coexist congenially at loggerheads, not needing to deny or disavow what we love, what sustains us spiritually each in his own way.

R.D. (Sept. 2000)