There are fascinating differences between the 1969 recording of November Steps by the same conductor and soloists (RCA) and this 1989 digital remake (Philips). The earlier version presented November Steps as a new piece of modernism, stressing hard-edged orchestral sounds imitating the harsh attacks of the two traditional Japanese instruments--the biwa (a lute) and the shakuhachi (a recorder). In the intervening two decades, better understanding of Takemitsu's style--so often compared to the calm, austere mood of Japanese visual arts--turned these performers' emphasis toward the meditative elements of the score. While the RCA version remains out of print, this Arkiv "on-demand" product restores the Philips recording to welcomeRead more availability. There are several other versions of November Steps (including another Philips/Arkiv release, with Haitink and the Concertgebouw), but the Saito Kinen Orchestra, a Japanese all-star group that assembles every summer, understands the music better than any Western competitor, and Seiji Ozawa turns in a fully committed performance.
In Eclipse, for biwa and shakuhachi duet, soloists Yokoyama and Tsuruta work together in a seamlessly woven semi-improvised musical conversation that aptly suggests timelessness. On the other hand, the musical texture of Takemitsu's Viola Concerto ("A String Around Autumn") is considerably more active than that of the other two works, but still suggests the static perfection of a Japanese landscape. Great sound.