Piano Concerto No. 2 (1935)* [25:45]
Symphony No. 2 (1934) [37:08]
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Dimitry Yablonsky
rec.16-19 March 2006, Studio 5, Russian State TV & Radio
Company KULTURA, Moscow NAXOS JAPANESE CLASSICS
Naxos blurb hails Ohzawa as ‘one of the foremost Japanese
composers of the first half of the 20th century’;
I’d guess he’s unfamiliar to most listeners. To their credit
Naxos have set about changing that, with the Piano
Concerto No. 3 and Symphony No.3 (8.557416)
and now this ‘world premiere recording’ of a similar pairing.
it’s good that these hitherto obscure works are being aired
at last there is always the risk that some finds will be
more significant than others. The Yamada disc in the same
series (see review)
is a case in point; it may be of historical interest but
musically it isn’t particularly memorable. As for Hisato
Ohzawa, is his work really worth exhumation?
the signs are promising. Born into a well-to-do Kobe family
Ohzawa studied in Boston with Roger Sessions and Arnold Schoenberg
and in Paris with Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger. Japanese
audiences weren’t too receptive to his music but at least
he managed to perform several works in the USA.
two items on this disc date from Ohzawa’s stay in Paris,
where in addition to his studies he met Roussel, Ibert and
Honegger. It’s worth remembering that it was a concert of
French music in 1925 that inspired him to compose in the
first place, so his sojourn in the French capital was significant.
difficult to characterise this piano concerto, other than
to say that it’s eclectic in the extreme. First impressions
are that the recording is somewhat boxy, the piano writing
vaguely reminiscent of Prokofiev but with a lick of jazz.
It has vigour and drive, even if textures are a little opaque
at times. In fact the orchestral playing is surprisingly
coarse – and the close, dry recording doesn’t help.
who won the grand prize at the 1984 Montreal International
Competition, sounds suitably fiery in the coruscating Allegro,
although she has to battle to make herself heard above the
rampant orchestra. At least in the Debussian Andante quasi
adagio she has a chance to shine. This movement may have
gentle impressionistic overtones but it can also sound somewhat
gruff. It’s a curious combination and although the Andante
quasi adagio is more coherent and involving both movements
are quite without character.
presto has more in common with the Allegro in
its mercurial piano part and orchestration. There are some
Ravelian flourishes and for once the conductor gives the
music room to breathe, especially in the more lyrical central
section. In spite of this the concerto remains dull and
charmless. Even after repeated listening the piece sounds
as unrewarding as before.
Symphony, which predates the concerto by a year, is unusual
in that it contains four sections within the second movement,
including sections for individual instruments and groupings.
For instance the first part is an ‘Aria pour cor anglais
et orchestre’, the fourth a ‘Toccata pour 4 instruments
et orchestre’. It’s a curious arrangement and one that
I can’t recall seeing anywhere else.
The Andante – allegro may
be somewhat brash and overbearing but it’s certainly arresting.
I really wish the recording weren’t so claustrophobic because
it makes the frequent tuttis sound so tiring. Perhaps Ohzawa’s
rather blatant scoring is partly to blame; that said there
is real drive in this movement, with some unexpected sonorities
and dynamic shifts.
with the pianist in the concerto the cor anglais player also
struggles to rise above the orchestra at times. My main quibble
though is that the orchestral writing is so unvaried. Even
so the second and third sections – for violin and orchestra
and clarinets and orchestra respectively – are much more
ingratiating. Indeed, the clarinets finally inject some much-needed
character into this dull score.
alla rondo is vigorous but it never shakes off the
air of anonymity that cloaks both the works on this disc.
And that really is the problem here; this music never comes
close to sounding original or surprising. And even if there were anything
of note the unbearably crude recording would obscure it.
Musically and sonically: nul points.
Founding Editor Rob Barnett Senior Editor
John Quinn Seen & Heard Editor Emeritus Bill Kenny Editor in Chief
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