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Takemitsu: Corona, Piano Distance, Etc / Woodward

Release Date: 06/27/2006 
Label:  Explore Records   Catalog #: 16   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Toru Takemitsu
Performer:  Roger Woodward
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

"A garden never spurns those who enter it"

This is one of the more famous of Toru Takemitsu’s aphorisms, for it sums up a lot of what he felt about music. For him, a garden was a metaphor for music, and the garden a metaphor for life. Just as a garden combines different textures and colours to create a whole, so does an orchestra. What you get from a garden depends on yourself: Takemitsu is saying that, if you’re prepared to enter into the spirit of a garden, or a piece of music, you’ll be rewarded.

For Takemitsu, being a human meant engaging with life. He was a cinema fanatic, watching everything voraciously. You could pick up on emotions whatever the language, he said, and emotions are
Read more universal. He wrote soundtracks for movies by Kurosawa, Oshima and Kobayashi. In fact, it is through movies that many people know his work – so atmospheric and integrated into the film that it is almost as much part of the plot. Yet his other music is, if anything, even more absorbing on its own terms. He is one of the great masters of late twentieth century music, and has a lasting, if indirect influence on many. He is one of the few who have successfully integrated western and Japanese music and created something genuinely original, without a whiff of pastiche.

This release by the exciting new label Explore, brings back into circulation on CD a Decca recording from 1973, performed by one of Takemitsu’s devotees and friends, Roger Woodward. Indeed this version of Corona was realized for performance by Woodward from an experimental score by Takemitsu which didn’t use formal notation but consists, according to the notes "of five differently coloured circles containing instructions and symbols which may be fitted together or overlapped in any combination … each of the five circles concerns a different aspect or parameter of the music: articulation, vibration, expression, conversation." Takemitsu places creative responsibility on whoever performs it, because whoever plays it has to work out the interpretation and even orchestration themselves, and improvise. This is in itself a daring idea, innovative for its time, and we are fortunate to have Woodward’s version, based on a deep understanding of the composer’s artistic personality.

Woodward has expanded the material so that he plays the piano commentary against a background of tapes of himself playing harpsichord and organ. The effect is wonderful because it creates a sense of physical presence. The piano is in the foreground, while the organ in particular is distant, varying in volume. The piano feels "first person", drawing the listener in and inviting him or her to engage with what is happening. It’s a refreshingly open-ended approach to creative art. It would be fascinating to follow this music with Takemitsu’s diagrams, but I was quite happy just to listen intuitively. Takemitsu wasn’t restrictive or prescriptive: he wanted each performance to be unique, and that involves a listener. I listened bearing in mind the composer’s love of nature, and his fascination with Debussy’s impressionism. What I heard in my imagination was a kind of experience of nature. A short figure of dry, hollow notes starts the piece, each group separated by long periods of silence, so long that you realize that the silence is part of the composition. Like in Chinese or Japanese painting, blank spaces aren’t blank but exist to frame the visible parts. Almost two minutes into the piece, you hear a distant rumbling, and the piano plays several series of sharp staccatos. Gradually the rumbling reveals itself as a kind of fugue on the organ, where a basic pattern is repeated over and over with minor variation. It ‘s even more unearthly because it sounds electronically manipulated, reverberating with a kind of menacing drone. At times it sounds like a distant alarm or siren. At times, sharp dissonances cut across the rumbling, like flashes of lightning against a storm-laden sky. The image of a thunderstorm is apt, for the fugue changes form several times, as if it were moving across a vast horizon. In the last few minutes the rumbling dissipates and clear, clean chords on the piano signify a change of mood: literally the sounds evaporate, gradually becoming quieter and quieter until you strain to hear the last notes. It works on several levels. Once I listened in my conservatory, with rain pounding on the roof. Another time I listened in pitch darkness, communing with the music in a more spiritual way. You could meditate to this music if you were so inclined.

In contrast, For Away is full of light. It was written for Woodward, and this performance must have been the premiere, since it was recorded within a few months of completion. Again we have diaphanous textures, single notes separated by silences. The piano experiments with different figures, letting the last notes resonate over the silences. A very early work, Undisturbed Rest from 1952, when the composer was only 22, concludes this disc. The composer described it as "a dream of western music", for it illustrates his fondness for Debussy and Ravel. It’s a "pure" piano piece, exploring the possibilities of the instrument, like a gentle, but experimental water-colour.

This isn’t music that jumps out and hits you. You’ve got to "enter the garden" yourself, and as Takemitsu said, you won’t go unrewarded. It’s a fairly short disc at 41 minutes, but concise and concentrated. Music as refined and sensitive as this packs a lot into a small scale. It’s beautiful and impeccably played by a performer who instinctively understood Takemitsu’s style. This recording was made fairly early in Takemitsu’s career, before major pieces like Rain Tree Sketch were composed. Other recordings are available, but Explore is doing wonderful things reissuing this disc so that a new generation can enjoy its pleasures.

-- Anne Ozorio, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Corona by Toru Takemitsu
Performer:  Roger Woodward (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Japan 
For Away by Toru Takemitsu
Performer:  Roger Woodward (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1973; Japan 
Piano Distance by Toru Takemitsu
Performer:  Roger Woodward (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961; Japan 
Uninterrupted rest by Toru Takemitsu
Performer:  Roger Woodward (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1952-1959; Japan 

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