TAKEMITSU: Rain Coming for chamber orchestra (1982). Archipelago S for 21 players (1993). Fantasma/Cantos II 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 Tokyo/Tadaaki Otaka, cond.
BIS SACD 1078 (F) (DDD) TT: 71:39

Rather than try to decipher the volume of technical data involved in creating this super-sounding CD (an SACD alternative is available for those with 4, 5 and 5.1 playback systems), let me concentrate instead on the music. Other than the somber 1957 Requiem for strings—Takemitsu’s first work for orchestra, written when he was already 26 —two of the remaining five pieces were composed in the ‘80s: Rain Coming in 1982, Tree Line in 1988. The remaining three date from the last five years of his sadly abbreviated life: How slow the Wind in 1991, Archipelago S in 1993, and Fantasma/Cantos II for trombone soloist and orchestra in 1994, less than two years before his death from liver cancer on February 20, 1996, following eight months of agony. [Irony: he seldom drank anything but green tea.]

In our website archives you can read other reviews by me of the man as well as his music, influenced chiefly by Debussy and Messiaen but never copied, and never anyone’s but his own after he closed a folio of Webernistic works for solo piano, mostly composed in the post-Requiem ‘50s and early ‘60s. Early on he was a master orchestrator — sadly, RCA Red Seal never reissued M/DM-3000 on CD, recorded in Toronto at the end of 1968 by Seiji Ozawa and Canada’s premier orchestra, which included Green (aka November Steps II) and Asterism (for piano and orchestra). Nor has EMI reissued Cassiopeia for solo percussionist and orchestra, recorded in June 1971 before its official premiere at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival. What a surround-sound spectacular that would make, with four spatially placed orchestras joined by the soloist after a long entrance cadenza from the rear of the concert chamber!

To try and “describe” Takemitsu’s music after 1965—Arc for piano and orchestra was pivotal—defies conventional technical anaylsis, although Motoharu Kawashima’s annotation for BIS captures the spirits that literally inspired the best that he wrote (and very little, believe me, was dross). One line summarizes it best: “From the river of sound to the sea of harmony.” The paradox couples the delicacy of a brush stroke in Kanji with the strength of titanium. I wrote the album liner for M/DM-3000, and was both amused and irritated by a review in Gramophone whose staff critic who wanted technical chapter-and-verse. Alongside Kawashima’s achievement, mine was almost literal—well written, I still think, but missing the infinitude of Takemitsu’s multiple visions. And visions (or, rather, visuals) were increasingly the seedlings of his art.
Takemitsu can be an acquired taste, like eel roll, or yellow-tail rather than standard-red tuna. His music needs attention as well as a suspension of expectation, but how it does reward the time spent in exploring his world. There one can find humor as well as sobriety, even terror—clearly demonstrated in parts of Fantasma/Cantos II remembered from Jack Teagarden’s Dixieland jazz recordings, heard as a busboy in postwar Tokyo’s American military canteens.

The performances here by Otaka and his eponymous Kioi Sinfonietta of Tokyo, as well as by Swedish trombonist Christian Lindberg (for whom Fantasma/Cantos II was written), are impeccably stylish and technically transfixing. The sound in “conventional” stereo is indeed Super Audio CD, employing Sony’s Direct Stream Digital process, which Robert Suff produced with Jens Braun the engineer (assisted by Tetsuo Kojima of Sony) in a hall that records ideally.

R.D. (May 2003)