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CD Review

Takashi Yoshimatsu

  • Saxophone Concerto "Cyber-bird"
  • Symphony #3
Nobuya Sugawa, saxophone
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Sachio Fujioka
Chandos CHAN9737 DDD 68:15
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Chandos' notes include hardly any biographical information concerning Takashi Yoshimatsu, who was born in 1953. He is the label's "composer-in-residence," and this is the third Chandos CD to be devoted exclusively to his music.

On the basis of what I am hearing here – Yoshimatsu's work is completely new to me – this composer is someone who is easy to like and eager to please, although he is very much a man of his time. These two scores are somewhat eclectic; there are whiffs of minimalism here, scents of jazz there, and fleeting tastes of a "pops" aesthetic. In short, he gives modern music buffs something to sink their teeth into, and yet he doesn't scare the horses. There's a winning sincerity, almost a naïve quality, about these two works that disarms potential grumbling that there's something a little facile about them.

The Saxophone Concerto was composed in 1993 in homage to the remarkable young musician who plays it here. The composer describes it as a "kind of triple concerto," and based on a "free jazz-style trio" in which the saxophonist is joined by a pianist and a percussionist. The subtitle alludes to "an imaginary bird in the realm of electronic cyberspace." (At the same time, the composer describes how his sister's final words, as she was dying of cancer, were "I would like to be a bird in my next life.") This 23-minute work is in three movements: "Bird in Colors," "Bird in Grief," and "Bird in the Wind." The outer movements are nervously brilliant, and Yoshimatsu demands (and gets) great agility from his star soloist. The playful and irregular rhythms and bluesy interludes emphasize the music's affinities with jazz, yet the music has a scope and broad construction that tie it to the classical world. The middle movement is a moving but delicate elegy in which the presence of the composer's sister can be felt.

The Third Symphony's origins are a five-movement piece that Yoshimatsu had planned on writing – an "ode to Asia" at different hours of the day. This idea fell through, however, and when Chandos suggested a recording, Yoshimatsu reworked the music to fit the standard classical four-movement format. Like the Saxophone Concerto, this symphony is modernistic yet highly approachable. The first movement is dominated by a phrase that the composer insistently repeats and varies; in his words, "shadow and light, hope and malice, compassion and savagery [, …] mingle and clash." The second movement is a scherzo in which bits of disparate musical styles, from classical to popular, are put together in a mosaic; the pieces catch and throw light to each other. According to Yoshimatsu, the succeeding Adagio "expresses dark Asiatic passion." Two solo cellos play a starring role in the music's quietly inexorable progress. The finale weaves together music from the previous three movements, and caps it with a "glorious sunrise" and a coda, which flirts – successfully, I think – with outright bombast. The symphony, completed in 1998, is dedicated to the conductor.

The BBC Philharmonic acquits itself well, and the recording is up to par. This is one of the more interesting titles in Chandos' "New Direction" series, and you can be sure that I will be exploring the two previous discs of Yoshimatsu's music.

Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle