Takemitsu: A String Around Autumn; I Hear the Water Dreaming; A Way a Lone II; riverrun

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Takemitsu
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: A String Around Autumn; I Hear the Water Dreaming; A Way a Lone II; riverrun
PERFORMER: Philip Dukes (viola), Sharon Bezaly (flute), Noriko Ogawa (piano); BBC NO of Wales/Tadaaki Otaka
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1300
For some Western listeners, a first encounter with the music of the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu can be baffling. The elements of the style seem familiar enough: a lush, rarefied late-Romanticism echoing Debussy, the gentler, contemplative Messiaen or perhaps Berg – though it’s Berg without the violence and the self-laceration. Listening to these four pieces you’d find it hard to believe that this composer was once considered a leading modernist. What’s disconcerting is that Takemitsu’s Romanticism seems blissfully directionless. There’s no real sense of movement from A to B – or even back to A again. The music drifts serenely from one harmony or melodic phrase to another, but it doesn’t feel like any kind of journey. Nothing is discovered, no tensions resolved or problems solved. But as the performances on this disc show, it can be a rare kind of pleasure to drift along with Takemitsu. The sound-world is often exquisite, the melodic writing deeply seductive.

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In their different ways, these three excellent soloists make this music seem more Romantically expressive than usual – Paul Crossley’s version of riverrun on Virgin seems a touch chilly after Noriko Ogawa’s sensuous playing – yet the dreamlike free-floating quality remains as strong as ever. Sharon Bezaly provides a fine palette of flute colour in I Hear the Water Dreaming, while viola-player Philip Dukes hints at darker passions in A String around Autumn. Conductor Tadaaki Otaka seems to have no problems understanding the way the music moves (or doesn’t). Recorded sound is clear but suitably atmospheric. Stephen Johnson