Performed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Yuzo Toyama with soprano Rie Hamada. A beautiful digital recording of several rarely performed works by Takemitsu (the soprano part of the marvelous "Coral Island" is very difficult, for example, and the "Archipelago S" is for an unusual ensemble of instruments). Many of the subtleties of Takemitsu's writing are lost in recording (for example, subtle harmonics behind more foreground material), but the engineers made a good effort here.
Tan Dun's Concerto for String Orchestra and Pipa (1999) is a reworking of one of his most popular works, Ghost Opera, written for and recorded by the Kronos Quartet. In this version, the composer's characteristic polystylism – which here includes Chinese folk song, Copland-esque Big Sky music, quotations from Bach, and vocalizations by the orchestra – comes across as a jumble, without much of a strong vision holding the disparate elements together. Pipa virtuoso Wu Man, who appeared on the Kronos recording, plays the concerto with energy and delicacy. She's ably accompanied by the Moscow Soloists, led by Yuri Bashmet. The concerto is followed by Takemitsu's Nostalghia (1987) for violin and string orchestra. Its compositional assurance, clarity, subtly nuanced orchestration, and emotional directness make it all the more striking in contrast to the Tan Dun. Here Bashmet is the impassioned soloist, with Roman Balashov conducting with great sensitivity. The three brief excerpts from Takemitsu's film scores are a pleasant stylistic diversion – light, strongly differentiated character pieces.
Toru loved his country; particularly it's most refined traditions. He always expressed delight with our world's diversity and sadness at the passing of unique cultural traditions from which he believed other people could learn important lessons. Toru was not interested in merging cultures. On the contrary, he wanted every culture to retain its unique characteristics as parables for the enlightenment of all. He wanted peace but valued individuality above uniformity, principle above compromise. He expressed ambivalence about his November Steps; a blend of western orchestra and traditional Japanese instruments that some people saw as a bridge between East and West and a template for a world music.
"Gemeaux" (1971-1986) is one of Takemitsu's grandest works in terms of musical arc, scoring and length of gestation. It is written for two orchestras with two conductors, and with solo trombone at one orchestra and solo oboe at the other. As half of it was written during Takemitsu's "modernist apogee" of the turn of the '70s, we find a host of extended techniques, and at one point the soloists even speak through the mouthpieces of their instruments. As the other half of the work belongs to Takemitsu's late period, we find a successful of elegant self-contained gestures, his musical "gardens". The synthesis of two creative periods, however, makes for a piece singular in its impact in Takemitsu's oeuvre.