Takemitsu: Complete Music For Solo Guitar (CD)

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Andrea Dieci

The idiom of Toru Takemitsu fits the classical guitar like a tailored suit of pure lines where simplicity conceals the thought and art behind their design. The range of sonority is wide yet subtle in the set of three Folios (1974) which became his first work for the instrument, yet their brevity is out of all proportion to the care taken in their construction, and they quickly made their composer renowned, along with Henze, as one of the most refined composers for the instrument in the second half of the last century. Takemitsu’s explanation of the title was characteristically laconic: ‘just two facing pages, short pieces, no more than that.’ Within the third of them is buried a quotation from a chorale used by Bach in the St Matthew Passion, hinting at a grave character that is shared by the more overtly Hispanic figuration of the second movement.

From 13 years later, the four movements of All in Twilight are an impressionistic evocation in sound of a painting of the same name by Paul Klee. Takemitsu’s fondness for bell-like sonorities returns in the minute-long tribute to the composer Sylvano Bussotti on his 60th birthday. Landscape and painting stimulated the composer’s imagination in two more guitar pieces: Equinox, he explained, was inspired by the painting of the same name by the Catalan painter, Joan Miró (1967). ‘During the equinox the length of day and night are the same and the title has some relationship to musical proportions and the harmonic pitch interval within the composition, but no literary meaning.’

In the Woods was Takemitsu’s very last composition, completed in November 1995, three months before his death. This three-movement suite opens with Wainscot Pond, after a painting of Cornelia Foss – a tone-painting in his late style which is pared back to harmonic essentials and returns to a diatonic harmony that he never quite forsook at his most avant-garde.

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Toru Takemitsu:

  1. Folios: I. —
  2. Folios: II. —
  3. Folios: III. —
  4. All in Twilight Four Pieces for Guitar: I. —
  5. All in Twilight Four Pieces for Guitar: II. Dark
  6. All in Twilight Four Pieces for Guitar: III. —
  7. All in Twilight Four Pieces for Guitar: IV. Slightly Fast
  8. A Piece for Guitar for the 60th Birthday of Sylvano Bussotti
  9. Equinox
  10. In the Woods Three Pieces for Guitar: I. Wainscot Pond – after a Painting by Cornelia Foss
  11. In the Woods Three Pieces for Guitar: II. Rosedale
  12. In the Woods Three Pieces for Guitar: III. Muir Woods
  13. 12 Songs Transcriptions for Guitar: I. Londonderry Air
  14. 12 Songs Transcriptions for Guitar: II. Over the Rainbow
  15. 12 Songs Transcriptions for Guitar: III. Summertime
  16. 12 Songs Transcriptions for Guitar: IV. A Song of Early Spring
  17. 12 Songs Transcriptions for Guitar: V. Amours Perdues
  18. 12 Songs Transcriptions for Guitar: VI. What a Friend
  19. 12 Songs Transcriptions for Guitar: VII. Secret Love
  20. 12 Songs Transcriptions for Guitar: VIII.Here, There and Everywhere
  21. 12 Songs Transcriptions for Guitar: IX. Michelle
  22. 12 Songs Transcriptions for Guitar: X. Hey Jude
  23. 12 Songs Transcriptions for Guitar: XI. Yesterday
  24. 12 Songs Transcriptions for Guitar: XII. The International
  25. The Last Waltz

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Sophisticated guitar music that revisits unexpected melodies.



This is one of the more unusual discs I have come across. Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) was a Japanese composer who began his career writing avant-garde musique concrete, followed by complex and dissonant music in the 1960s. From the '70s on, though, his style mellowed considerably. His passions were Debussy, Messiaen and jazz, alongside traditional Japanese music - all of which he combined in a distinctively personal sound world. Although he worked with the tools of Western music (orchestra, piano, guitar, flute and so on), he never adopted classical musical structures. Rather, each work is like a series of perfect miniatures that float from one to the next in an ambient stream. A good example is the piece Quotation of Dreams, for orchestra and two pianos, in which quotations from Debussy's La Mer turn up randomly in a sonic dreamscape. Because of the strong French influence in harmony and texture, you might call Takemitsu a post-impressionist.

Takemitsu's music for solo guitar reveals his interest in jazz, notably through sophisticated harmonies alá Bill Evans. The dates of these works range from 1974 to 1995, and all have an improvisational feel. Very little of the music is fast or reliant on figuration, 'Muir Woods' from In the Woods (1995) being an exception. Don't be put off by the harmonic clashes of the opening track, Folios (1974); most of these short pieces are laid back and relaxing.

The second half of the disc consists of thirteen popular song arrangements the composer made for guitar, beginning with Danny Boy, Summertime, Secret Love and Over the Rainbow, and leaning heavily towards the Beatles' songbook with Hey Jude, Michelle and the inevitable Yesterday. Takemitsu even arranged The Last Waltz and an almost bluegrass version of What a Friend We Have in Jesus. The arrangements are tasteful, and the composer obviously knew the instrument well. You want to break open a bottle of pinot noir and light a few candles while listening to this part of the disc. Andrea Dieci plays with finesse and understanding, and the sound quality is excellent. Unusual, but compelling.