Japanese French impressionism

BBC SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA/ ANDREW DAVIS ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL LONDON
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The Independent Culture
TORU TAKEMITSU, who died two years ago, is Japan's most famous composer of music in the Western tradition, though it's claimed that his spirit remains Japanese.

The second of the BBC Symphony Orchestra's three retrospective concerts on Thursday began with a 30-minute work, written in 1990 and entitled From me flows what you call time, which featured the five players of the Canadian percussion group Nexus as highlighted soloists.

They were first heard tinkling on small, tuned finger cymbals as they processed down through the stalls on to the platform, where they took up a more varied array of instruments, mostly gentle-sounding.

The absence of musical narrative or a developing argument is certainly oriental, though it's shared by American music of the "experimental" tradition, in which Takemitsu was interested at an early stage of his career. But his sound world is that of French impressionism, hence the coupling with Ravel in these programmes.

Time is not pressed in this refined and discreetly voluptuous music, and Takemitsu's achievement is to make us forget it - to create a sense that we are exploring a space in which sounds occur, as it were in our own time.

Yet the other Takemitsu piece in the concert, Spirit Garden, seemed not to realise timelessness so completely. As it wafted on for 18 minutes in a manner that suggested a youthful Messiaen on drugs, the last five minutes or so hung distinctly heavy.

Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand is, by contrast, strongly driven music - though what Ravel drives at seems mysterious, even absent. Not so much a torso, it's all head and feet - an introduction and an ending, with only a protracted march between the two.

It was a great pleasure to hear, and see, the almost legendary Leon Fleisher addressing the solo part with such aplomb. For many years he retired from performing because of a sort of repetitive stress injury to his right hand, which apparently is now cured.

Ravel called Bolero, defensively, "orchestration without music". But when the omission is made good with a melody of such beguiling beauty and sophistication, and the accumulative layers of orchestral dress are so cunningly plotted, no apology is needed. It's thrilling, too, watching players count the bars until their solos and then strutting their stuff while the others smile. At last, the conductor Andrew Davis could move his body a bit, and how the rest of us suppressed an urge to dance in the aisles, I don't know.

The concert is broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Friday 16 October. The last concert in the series is on Saturday 17 October

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