t has been demonstrated that dolphins communicate not with their gibbering voices but with the varied intervals of silence between the sounds they emit – a provocative discovery.”
Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) made this statement in his notes to the composition “November Steps” (an orchestral work not included on this CD), revealing a good deal about his views on music. An obsession with the forces of nature, especially water, is reflected in titles like “Toward the Sea” and “Rain Spell”. More deeply, Takemitsu’s interest in the communicative powers of sound and silence can be felt in a music whose meditative grace always seeks to balance the two forces.
Takemitsu was born in Tokyo, and was primarily self-taught as a musician. He is probably best known to Western audiences through his film scores; examples from movies such as Woman in the Dunes and Empire of Passion are collected on the excellent Nonesuch CD The Film Music of Toru Takemitsu. However, he was also both a leading light of Japan’s avant-garde and one of Japan’s most popular composers. During the early 1950s, he collaborated with Shin Sakkyokuha Kyokai(New School of Composers) and Jikken Kobo(Experimental Workshop) to produce pioneering multimedia works and explored techniques like musique concrete, tape manipulation, and improvisation – all of which can be heard in the score for Woman In The Dunes. Although he later moved towards more traditional modes of writing, his study of nature and traditional Japanese music along with Western influences like Arnold Schoenberg, John Cage, Claude Debussy, and Olivier Messiaen resulted in a unique musical language.
Collecting works composed between 1971 and 1995, Chamber Music reflects this mature period of Takemitsu’s writing. Quite a few of the included pieces were written for the members of the Toronto New Music Ensemble, and the composer worked closely with the musicians before his death. One of Takemitsu’s favorite compositional strategies was to compose short, amelodic lines, and have the different instruments echo minor variations of it. The careful placement of these lines creates an organic growth of sound that acknowledges the surrounding silences. This process is well demonstrated in “And Then I Knew ‘Twas Wind” (1992), the opening piece for flute, viola, and harp. It has a delicateness of tone that recalls Debussy.
Following this is “Rain Tree” (1981), a piece for three percussionists that pairs a vibraphone with two marimbas that builds into interlocking lines that recalls Steve Reich, although it has much a looser feel than Reich’s work. After this is probably the best-known work on this CD, “Toward the Sea” (1981). This short, 3-movement piece spins the 3-note phrase S-E-A (the S is E-flat, or Es, in German) into a loving portrait of the sea inspired by Melville’s Moby Dick. “Bryce” (1976) again builds on letters found in its title (in this case, B-flat, C and E) and a playing technique for flute inspired by the sharper style of the traditional Japanese shakuhachi flute to create a semi-improvised, gently mournful flute melody played against a slowly-filling background of two harps, marimba, and percussion. Three short pieces for solo flute follow: “Itinerant” (1989), “Voice” (1971), and “Air” (1995). These works allow a tour-de-force of flute from Robert Aitken as he explore a whole range of flute techniques, ranging from shakuhachi sounds to singing, over-blowing, and percussive effects. Concluding the CD is “Rain Spell” (1983), for flute, clarinet, harp, piano, and vibraphone. Its relatively rich, shimmering textures place it again in Debussy territory as sort of an atonal take on “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun”.
Perhaps the best introduction to Takemitsu’s music is still the previously mentioned The Film Music Of Toru Takemitsu because it includes a wider range of his compositions, but this new collection’s quality of work and its price (Naxos is a budget label) make it a fine alternative choice.
Reviewed by: Jim Storch
Reviewed on: 2003-12-08