TAKEMITSU November Steps / Imai,Woodward,Ozawa 4787434
. . . innovative and exceptionally crafted works, neatly and thinly packaged for your convenience. In "November Steps", the biwa (a short-necked lute) and shakuhachi (an end-blown bamboo flute) take center stage. Ozawa and his excellent orchestra have little to do except provide a sparse backdrop, but they are unchallenged in this music all the same. As for the soloists, they are probably the definitive ones . . . Both here and in "Eclipse", both players are evocative and haunting, not to mention beautifully recorded. What makes these works so effective is Toru Takemitsu's refusal to overdo anything . . . [despite being very modern pieces,] these pieces retain a very traditional feel. There is mystery here, along with the simplicity and elegance that many of us think of when discussing Japanese culture. But even more importantly, there is a clear compositional voice and sense of purpose, one which would remain with the composer even as his style shifted. And speaking of shifting styles, "A String Around Autumn" puts us in a richer, denser sound world . . . Compared to the minimal scoring for "November Steps", the concerto allows the full range of the Saito Kinen Orchestra to emerge. And there is arguably no better conductor of this music than Seiji Ozawa. Nobuko Imai is nothing short of marvelous here. There are so few pieces for viola and orchestra that are even worth considering, and this has to be one of the more beautiful out there . . . it's a great program . . .