TAKEMITSU: And Then I Knew 'Twas Wind. Rain Tree. Toward the Sea. Bryce. Itinerant. Voice. Air. Rain Spell.
Toronto New Music Ensemble: Robert Aitken, flute; Steven Dann, viola;Erica Goodman, Sanya Eng, harp;Robin Engelman, John Wyre, Bob Becker, Russell Hartenberger, Ryan Scott, percussion; Norbert Kraft, guitar; Joaquin Valdepeñas, clarinet; David Swan, piano.
NAXOS 8.555859 (B) (DDD) TT: 71:28

LUTOSLAWSKI: Dance Preludes for Clarinet and Orchestra. Double Concerto for Oboe, Harp and Chamber Orchestra. Grave (Metamorphoses for Cello and String Orchestra). Chain I for 14 Performers. Two Children's Songs for Voice and Chamber Orchestra (The Belated Nightingale/About Mr. Tralalinski). Six Children's Songs for Voice and Instruments (Dance/The Four Seasons/Kitten/Grzes is going through the village/A Brook/The Bird's Gossip).
Zbigniew Kaleta, clarinet; Arkadiusz Krupa, oboe; Nicolas Tulliez, harp; Rafael Kwiatowski, cello; Urszula Kryger, soprano; Polish National Radio Symphony Orch/Antoni Wit, cond.
NAXOS 8.555763 (B) (DDD) TT: 57:34


For background on, and my detailed admiration of both composers as the two finest in the second half of the 20th century, please consult the index of past reviews on both. Here we have new additions from Naxos, although Lutoslawski Vol. 8 is a disappointment in that series to date. The recorded sound is regressively flat—in your face and coarse-sounding—while solo playing in the five Dance Preludes of 1954-55 for clarinet, and the Double Concerto for Oboe and Harp of 1980 (for Heinz and Ursula Holliger) lacks personality as well as individualized charm. Both can be heard to greatly better advantage in Philips’ two-disc reissue called “The Essential Lutoslawski,” conducted by the composer and Witold Rowicki. The Holligers also teamed with Michael Gielen and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra 20 years ago for a recording reissued in a VoxBox that also included three works of Richard Strauss and two by Berg, including the Lulu- Suite sung by Kathleen Battle that I was looking for but had misfiled and couldn’t find when I wrote about Simon Rattle’s EMI reissue last month (all on CDX 5136, if you can track it down in second-hand stores or on-line). It deserves to be remastered and reissued, not that the 1995 re- recording is deficient, but I’ll bet it can be made to sound as new as yesterday.
What is valuable in Vol. 8 of Naxos’ Lutoslawski overview—sorry, but Chain I and a brief Grave for cello and strings (subtitled Metamorphoses in memory of a Polish musicologist) also lack sonic space and subtleties—are eight early songs for children, sung with extraordinary beauty by Urszula Kryger. She is accompanied with the kind of sensitivity we’ve come to expect from Antoni Wit and his Katowice Radio Symphony in the best of previous volumes. The recording dates are January 16-18, 2001—a year later than No. 7, which sounds ever so much better from the same producer working in the same hall with same basic performing forces. Weird, and a little depressing; but the songs are a terminal balm.

The Takemistu recording from Toronto, on the other hand, is superb without qualification, played by the Toronto New Music Ensemble with almost eerie identification. Everything is chamber music, often for startling combinations, such as Rain Tree for three percussionists, Toward the Sea for alto flute and guitar, or Bryce for flute, two harps, marimba and percussion. The notes by Daniel Foley are illuminating, including quotations from the composer as well as his terminal work, Air for solo flute. He completed it in 1995 as a 70th birthday present for Aurèle Nicolet, who introduced the music less than a month before Takemitsu’s death on February 20, 1996. If you know and are hypnotized by other of his works, this adds to the sum of an oeuvre unsurpassed to date by any composer from the Orient (and yes, I know music by Tan Dun and Bright Sheng, especially the latter’s best work). I’m not sure Takemitsu would have approved Naxos’ cover art, about which he was uncommonly picky, but the contents more than reward acquiring this disc and filing the program book backwards. Very highly recommended.

R.D. (November 2003)