Toru Takemitsu

Orchestral Works IV: Coral Island for Soprano and Orchestra (1962)

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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. The title of "Archipelago S." for 21 players describes an imaginary archipelago made up of five real islands widely separated in the natural world, each island's name beginning with an "S": islands in Stockholm, Seattle, and the Seto Inland Sea of Japan. The composer imagined the islands "calling out to each other across the great distance separating them...experienced as a metaphor for the universe." The orchestra is divided into five sections and dispersed throughout the concert hall: three ensembles and two independent clarinets on the left and right sides of the space. Each of the five sections describes the five islands: "I mentally sketched the beautiful scenes of each island until gradually a clear musical theme took shape." Although this is one of the most soloistically melodic of Takemitsu's concert pieces, with single lines often containing several unusual and expressive ways of playing the instrument, many of the timbres suggest icy or at least barren landscapes. But there lurk some signs (and lovely ones at that) of life amongst this quiescent landscape: in brief moments the separate groups sing together in unison, and there are also a few moments of rich string writing when one can imagine sunlight suddenly illuminating the scene, and all of the "islands" join in glorious full orchestral passages. "Corona II" for strings is a fascinating graph work from Takemitsu's early period where he experimented with his concern for separating the distinct parameters of pitch, rhythm, dynamics, and timbre (or tone color) modulation. This separation of basic musical parameters was also an interest and compositional practice of the composers of the '50s and '60s, both composers who wrote strict serialist music and composers who created freer forms with elements of spontaneous improvisation, chance, indeterminacy, group, and theater-work composition, and so on. In Takemitsu's piece, the performers freely choose a pitch which they constantly play throughout the piece and do not change. The changes are all made in the dynamics, timbre, and manner of playing that pitch. These changes are read from a score consisting of colored plastic sheets which have modulations of coloration (similar to many scores of John Cage, and later of Karlheinz Stockhausen, which used color as a notational symbol, and used overlaid transparent plastic sheets in order to shift notational symbols). "This is a kind of study for grasping single sounds as full and vital entities" (Takemitsu).

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