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Hiroshi OHGURI (1918-1982)
Violin Concerto (1963);
Fantasia on Osaka Folk Songs (1955 rev. 1970)
Legend for Orchestra – after the tale of Ama-no-Iwayado (1977)
Rhapsody on Osaka Nursery Rhymes (1979)
Kazuhiro Takagi (Violin)
Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra/Tatsuya Shimono
Rec. Osaka Philharmonic Hall, Japan, August 2000
NAXOS 8.555321 [67.42]

There are occasions when a composer’s birthplace, date of birth and entire biography are the most important key in the understanding of the music. With Hiroshi Ohguri this is certainly one of those occasions. Osaka, his home town, is even now well isolated from the main centre, Tokyo. It has its own culture and its own language or certainly dialect (Osaka-ben). It also has its own tunes. These are woven by Ohguri into all of his music including the pieces on this disc - another in Naxos’s ongoing series of ‘Japanese Classics’.

During his childhood in the town of Osaka traditional instruments and tunes were a daily part of his fairly middle-class life. He studied the French horn and played in the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. There he learned the basic Western repertoire at firsthand. Later he joined the same Osaka Philharmonic who play here.

In his detailed booklet notes, printed microscopically by Naxos, Morihide Katayama writes "The strong relationship between his music and provincialism has given rise to a legend that only players and ensembles from Osaka can interpret Ohguri’s music correctly". Well at present we shall never know as the Osaka Philharmonic play so brilliantly here. There are no comparative versions in the catalogue so we must take that statement on trust for now. The music is not utterly Japanese but has a strong Western influence. The orchestration is especially deft and obviously learned from the giants of the 20th Century. Indeed the start of the Violin Concerto reminded me, both in melodic material and orchestration, of Bartók’s 2nd Violin Concerto. The dynamic rhythmic energy of the third movement, although based like much of his music on Japanese songs and dances, only served to remind me of Khachaturian and even of Kodály’s ‘Dances from Galanta’.

Although the Violin Concerto is a fine work and Kazuhiro Takagi is undoubtedly a young and dazzling virtuoso, it wasn’t this work but the other three that captivated my imagination.

The ‘Fantasy on Osaka Folk Tunes’ begins almost like Gagaku with piccolo, percussion and wailing strings. The variants on the bass which follow are an exciting synthesis of Japanese sounds and the Western Orchestra. Pentatonic melodies and strong rhythms mark out many passages of the piece but the quiet section in the middle is like a cool breath of a Japanese water garden. The antecedents of the melodies are given in detail and the whole work is well worth investigating.

If the title ‘Legend’ reminds you of John Ireland or Arnold Bax, then in a sense you are not too far away. It is a fascinating work which repays careful listening. It is dramatic and late- Romantic in style with much use of percussion. Here we have a complex Japanese folk-tale carefully constructed into a fifteen minute tone poem. It also mixes local folk melodies with Western harmony and is colourfully orchestrated.

Finally the ‘Rhapsody’ is, I feel, a slightly weaker work. It is a little too diffuse in form and seems to have to resort to bombast, as with the Waltonian opening fanfares. It covers the same ideas and language as the other two pieces but it does serve to bring the disc to a rousing conclusion.

To sum up: these are excellent performances, vividly recorded. This is music which through a distinctive voice and some originality links past and present. I have gained much enjoyment from this disc and I must say that we played it for pleasure more times than writing a review necessitates. I can’t say that for quite a number of CDs which come my way.

Gary Higginson

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