This Naxos disc is the second to feature a programme consisting entirely of works by the Japanese composer (1930-1996). While the first release concentrated on late chamber works, this one presents mainly late orchestral works, performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop. Unfortunately, as Takemitsu's late orchestral works are generally stale and repetitive, with the exception of a mere handful, I can't rate this so highly.
"Solitude Sonore" (1958) is the earliest piece here, from Takemitsu's first period. Its sweeping strings are reminiscent of the "Requiem" of the same era, the composer's first big hit. However, it adds several impressive innovations, such as the use of bells, and occasionally sinister dissonances on low brass.
"A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden" (1977) is a single-movement work that may be seen as the first piece of the "late Takemitsu", where he entirely leaves behind the avant-garde style of the late '60s and early '70s, embarking on that "sea of tonality" that was to last for the rest of his life. Like "Quatrain", it too is based around a single number, in this case five. Takemitsu says that he dreamed of a flock of white birds entered a pentagonal garden lead by one black bird, and this inspired him to create one of the most strictly serialised pieces of his career. It begins with a pentatonic scale, as if only the black keys of the piano were used, and eventually the seven "white notes" join it.
As for whether the piece is enjoyable without doting on its formal scheme, I'm uncertain. The problem is not that it sounds rigorous and mathematical--Takemitsu was a master of writing twelve-tone works that sound gentle and calm--but rather that it doesn't differentiate itself much from other works. Takemitsu's late pieces tend to all sound the same, and even those who have championed his music, such as Oliver Knussen, admit that they all seem cut from the same general roll. While some late works such as "Dream/Window" and the percussion concerto "From me flows what you call Time" stand out as sure masterpieces, "A Flock Descends..." has little to recommend it outside of some occasional use of aggressive percussion, a violence generally absent from later work.
"Dreamtime" (1981) continues this trend, and is representative of the dull aesthetic Takemitsu settled into. There are subtle variations in rhythm here--the work was originally written for staged choreography, and while it may work with the visual element, it's entirely unexciting on its own.
"Spirit Garden" (1994), one of Takemitsu's last works, is one of many which allude to gardens in their titles. Here the title hints at the organic derivation of all music from a series of twelve-tone chords. There is again the late Takemitsu's interest in timbres, but look! there's even some drama, and the use of faster tempos. It's not enough to make this a must-hear piece, but it does pull the disc up to three stars.
The cycle "Three Film Scores for String Orchestra" (1994/95) consists of a scene each from Takemitsu's music for "Jose Torres" (1959), "Black Rain" (1989), and "Face of Another" (1966). The first two are fairly unexciting string landscapes, but the third is a waltz, and it is interesting to see how Takemitsu dealt with this classical-era form, for Maurice Jarre-like simplicity is subtely cut across with rogue strings.
The liner notes here are fairly substantial for a Naxos disc, but still all . Fans of the composer would do well to seek out Peter Burt's THE MUSIC OF TORU TAKEMITSU (Cambridge University Press, paperback 2006).
For neophytes: even though this is a budget recording, don't let this be your introduction to Takemitsu. The other Naxos disc, with chamber works, serves well, but for fans of substantial modern repertoire, the Deutsche Grammophon discs QUOTATION OF DREAM and GARDEN RAIN are better. Come to this only if you are a collector of his works.