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Hisato OHZAWA (1907-1953)
Piano Concerto No. 3, ‘Kamikazea (1938) [26’19].
Symphony No. 3, ‘Symphony of the Founding of Japan’ (1937) [37’51].
aEkaterina Saranceva (piano)
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky.
Rec. Studio No. 5, ‘KULTURA’ Russian State TV & Radio Company, Moscow, 7-11 Oct 2003. DDD
NAXOS JAPANESE CLASSICS 8.557416 [64’10]

 


 

Hisato Ohzawa may be a name new to many; most, I would guess. Born in Kobe (Japan), he studied in the USA (from 1930), numbering Roger Sessions and Arnold Schoenberg amongst his teachers. Ohzawa was the first Japanese to conduct the Boston Symphony - in his own Little Symphony. Later Ohzawa moved to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger, returning to Japan in 1936.

The Third Piano Concerto is subtitled, ‘Kamikaze’. It is perhaps important to note that this title (meaning’ wind of God’) refers to the name of an aeroplane popular then (a photo of which adorns Naxos’ booklet) and not the suicide antics it was later to be associated with.

Ohzawa’s frame of reference is wide. The slow movement is clearly influenced by jazz-based popular music, with an almost indecently sleazy sax included in the mix and that on occasion slips into the sentimental. The first movement clearly pays homage to the orient in its opening orchestral statement, then to the Lisztian piano concerto before moving on to Impressionist waters. The finale uses more edgy harmonies and is dramatic and buzzing, sometimes spiky, and sometimes even a hint of ‘swing’ (around 3’55). Luckily Ohzawa is able to make the whole a distinctly listenable experience by  possessing sufficient character of his own. Naxos’s blurb suggests the ‘motoric dynamism of Honegger and Prokofiev’, a sentiment I wholeheartedly concur with.

Ekaterina Saranceva is an agile and active pianist who clearly relishes the challenges, and yet is able to let her hair down at the same time. The Russian Philharmonic under Yablonsky provide able support.

The Third Symphony is dedicated to the 2600th anniversary of the Imperial year in 1940. Again, Naxos suggests aural reference points, this time Miaskovsky and Roussel. Here the Russian Philharmonic is able to come into its own. This is a performance that oozes confidence, the players seeming to relish the dramatic first movement. This Allegrettto risoluto lasts for nearly 13 minutes, and does hang together – but only just. It must be admitted that Ohzawa seems happier in the likeable simplicity of the shorter (5’16) slow movement and in the wonderfully-titled ‘Menuet con fantasia’ that is the third movement. Cheeky at times, this moves clearly in the direction of Dukas and his Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

The finale begins brightly and brashly. There is plenty of energy around, and plenty of fun too, but it seems all too musically diffuse to convince, despite Yablonsky and his band’s best efforts.

One of Naxos’s strengths is that it enables the music-lover to explore new terrain (that would almost certainly never feature in the concert hall) for minimum outlay. This disc exemplifies this philosophy perfectly.

Colin Clarke

 

 


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