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Cosmos Haptic: Contemporary Piano Music from Japan

This is a sumptuous, relaxed, languorous CD of nine spare – yet also explosive – Japanese contemporary pieces for piano.  It is as much an act of love as it is of exposition of new music.  The composers have been chosen by Hiroaki Takenouchi to represent work from that country of the last half century or so.  They reveal an intensity with – and, really, a sort of authority over – melody, texture, rhythm and what the instrument can do.  This intensity, this sense of command, can amaze, if we enter this sound-world as receptive listeners.

“Cosmos Haptic” takes its title from the piece of that name by Joji Yuasa.  It represents a highly satisfying chronological survey stretching from the piece by Yuasa to Fujikura’s moromoro, written within the last five years.  Nine pieces in all; and at the same time a recital of real depth and interpretative strength.

This time-based approach is deliberate.  There’s little or no feeling on Takenouchi’s part of anything to ‘prove’ about the ability of practitioners of a Japanese ‘Western’ musical tradition to hold their own.  Nevertheless, if you were sceptical about, or new to, this repertoire, this excellent CD ought to go a long way towards convincing you: here is beautiful, accomplished and truly delightful music.  After all, the longest work on this rather generous CD is Les yeux clos II by Takemitsu.

Cosmos Haptic makes an interesting point.  It’s Yuasa’s conscious rejection of twelve-tone technique as being suitable only to a straight Western tradition.  There is still a sense of unfolding, but the thrust is more explicitly ‘directed’, ‘intentional’ – hence the name.  ‘Haptic’ implies an immediate, conscious manipulation.

The Takemitsu piece is one of the last the composer wrote for solo piano; he didn’t write many such anyway.  And it’s a gem.  Right at the centre of the spirit of the works on this CD, it moves as decisively as it does stealthily.  Miyoshi’s and Nodaïra’s pieces are in contrast with what comes immediately before and with Hosokawa’s “Haiku”, which follows it, in that they have more pace, more evident animation.  The “Haiku” homage to Boulez shares some of the latter’s sound-world: clusters, vertical groupings, a love of sound for sound’s sake, sporadic interjections which serve to imply the melodic lines, rather than define them in linear fashion.  Here Takenouchi is at his poetic best.  Pauses, attacks, holding of notes – such techniques seem aimed at stretching the limits of pianism, without self-consciousness.  In fact they plunge us right into the essence of best practice and great creativity for the instrument.

Harada’s, the longest work on this CD, is musician’s music.  It is concerned again with contrasts – those between the issues when performing heavily textured music, and the sparser, slimmer solo instrumental focus.  Again, Takenouchi works emphatically with the composer’s intentions.  He has no interest in virtuosity – despite that concern of Harada’s.

Tsurumi’s Toy 2 looks as though it’d be the most experimental of the works here.  It uses computer-generated material and even quotes from Borodin.  Yet it aims at a cohesiveness that perhaps doesn’t quite come off – though through no fault of Takenouchi’s.  His expert playing makes for an interesting experience; but sounds are maybe just a little too forced, too random, too clever for the good of the whole.

Fujikura’s moromoro (a theatrical comedic battle) again contrasts calm with energy.  By design, Fujikura adapted his original ideas – inspired by the sculpture of Tomoya Yamaguchi – to the wishes of the pianist, Tomoko Mukaiyama.  The composer explains the process in his short entry in what could usefully have been a much longer booklet.  moromoro is thus sedate and subdued for its first three quarters; then fast and furious to the end.

This is emphatically and unashamedly modern, at times dissonant and aggressively uncompromising playing of honest, crystalline music.  Takenouchi (just 30 years old) is based in London, where he studied with the late Yonty Solomon.  He will go far.  His sureness of touch and dramatically clear and clean insight are ideally suited to this music and to the world it inhabits.  For something new, different, yet essentially full of integrity, beauty and creativity, this CD is well worth a look.

Mark Sealey

(November 2008)

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