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  • Takemitsu: November Steps; Eclipse; Viola Concerto (A String around Autumn)
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Takemitsu: November Steps; Eclipse; Viola Concerto (A String around Autumn)

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Audio CD, April 14, 1992
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Product Details

  • Performer: Nobuko Imai, Katsuya Yokoyama, Kinshi Tsuruta
  • Orchestra: Saito Kinen Orchestra
  • Conductor: Seiji Ozawa
  • Composer: Toru Takemitsu
  • Audio CD (April 14, 1992)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Philips
  • ASIN: B00000E4TM
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #457,630 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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This Philips CD highlights Toru Takemitsu's collaboration with internationally famous Japanese musicians. Seiji Ozawa leads the Saito Kinen Orchestra, with soloists Kinshi Tsuruta (biwa), Katsuya Yokoyama (shakuhachi) and Nobuko Imai (viola).

Takemitsu's music was always somewhat slow and meditative -- he often mentioned that the Japanese have no sense of allegro time -- and the bulk of his career was broadly imitative of Debussy or Messiaen. Nonetheless, in the late 1960s he went through his "modernist apogee" where some striking contrasts arose. With "Eclipse" for biwa and shakuhachi (1966) Takemitsu reconciled with his hitherto neglected Japanese heritage. This is an exceedingly slow, sparse piece employing a pentatonic scale and generous silences. The biwa, a sort of lute, is all rubber-band twangs and Bartok pizzicatos. The shakuhachi, a wooden flute, produces microtonal inflections.

Takemitsu most famous work of this era, and possibly his masterpiece, is "November Steps" for shakuhachi, biwa and orchestra (1969). The piece combines the impressionism that Takemitsu learnt from Debussy and Messiaen with two of the most ancient Japanese instruments. But this is no crossover effort, for Takemitsu wanted to highlight just how different and possibly irreconcilable East and West were. The orchestra starts things off and builds to a thrilling climax, one of the few moments in all of Takemitsu's oeuvre that could be called violent. Then, they generally withdraw while the Japanese soloists play a series of variations ("steps" in native terminology). Orchestra and soloists subsequently alternate throughout the work, never reaching any dialogue. The most the orchestra can do is imitate the biwa with a few half-hearted pizzicatos, or the shakuhachi with glissandi.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Kline PhD, MD on August 16, 2014
Everything about Toru Takemitsu’s and his list of accomplishments is unique. Among his accomplishments, he organized an experimental workshop for painters and composers in Tokyo and designed a Space Theater for the Osaka Exposition in 1970. Oh and I almost forgot, he is also a noted Japanese composer who has been influenced by Debussy, Messiaen, Cage, and Boulez on the Western end of music. Of course, Takemitsu has been most influenced by his traditional Japanese music. The results are very original compositions that blend the two spheres of influence. Given what you have read, it should come as no surprise that Takemitsu’s music is like none I have ever heard. As a Westerner, it sounds more Japanese than anything else to me. In other words, compared to Takemitsu, the most modern atonal music sounds absolutely conventional to me.

So, this Philips album is going to be fun to review! It features Seiji Ozawa conducting the Saito Kinen Orchestra in Takemitsu’s November Steps for orchestra with shakubachi and biwa, Eclipse for shakubachi and biwa, and Viola Concerto “A String around Autumn”. The album was recorded in 1989 and 1990. Expect some unusual (for Western listeners) sounds and instruments you are not accustomed to hearing. To the average listener, some of the instruments sound like stretched rubber band plucked and other unusual instrumental sonorities.

November Steps is, like most of Takemitsu’s works, a single movement. It features the shakubachi and biwa. The Shakubachi is a wind instrument resembling a recorder. The Biwa is a fretted string instrument resembling a lute. This is an orchestral piece, but as the piece unfolds there is increasing emphasis on the Japanese instruments with minor elaboration by strings.
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