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Qunihico HASHIMOTO (1904-1949)
Symphony No. 1 in D (1940) [46’25]
Symphonic Suite: Heavenly Maiden and Fisherman (1933) [20’38].
Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra/Rysuke Numajiri.
Rec. Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space on 24th-26th July 2001 DDD
NAXOS 8.555881 [67’03]

Hashimoto Qunihico ‘studied with Egon Wellesz in Vienna in the first half of the twentieth century and associated with Alois Hába and Ernst Krenek, before meeting Schoenberg in Los Angeles when he was returning to Japan,’ according to Naxos’s blurb on the back cover of this disc. All the ingredients either for a stylistic mess, or an inspired synthesis, therefore. In the event, the truth is somewhere in between, but veering towards the latter.

Hashimoto’s First Symphony was composed in honour of the 2600th anniversary of the foundation of Japan and dates from 1940 (Richard Strauss’ Festmusik zur Feier des 2600 jährigen Bestehens des Kaiserreiches Japan, Ibert’s Ouverture de Fête, Pizzetti’s Symphony in A and Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem were all commissioned for the occasion. In the event, though, the Britten was deemed unsuitable.)

Hashimoto’s is a rewarding work. The composer’s particular brand of delicacy informs the perfumed opening. During the course of the movement, one is aware of the diversities present in this piece: around five minutes in, the music becomes shamelessly Romantic, yet around 9’20 there is a marching band (Hashimoto uses the ‘March of the Children’). One almost expects a second one to approach from the distance, playing another tune in a different key, à la Charles Ives. The orchestral ‘dissolve’ which closes this movement is beautifully managed here.

The second movement, based on Okinawan material, contains clear folk references. It is sweet and well constructed, although the Copland-ish feel around 2’40 comes as something of a surprise! (some later passages even have a pastoral English feel to them …). But the delicacy is sheer delight. The work closes with Theme, eight Variations and a Fugue with a combined total of around twenty minutes. The theme is known as ‘Kigensetsu’, described in the notes as, ‘virtually a second National anthem sung on 11th February each year by the whole nation and therefore the most suitable for celebrating the 2600th year of the Emperor’. Certainly it undergoes lush treatment here, and Hashimoto’s variations are skilfully done. Structurally, the fugue might on paper make for a difficult mix, but Hashimoto achieves his goal convincingly.

The Symphonic Suite from the ballet, Heavenly Maiden and Fisherman (Hashimoto’s fourth ballet score and written before he left for Europe) acts as a substantial filler. It is a piece in which Japanese melody intermingles with references to Dukas and Pierné. There is a certain ritualistic side to the Introduction that leads in to and prepares for the implied yet understated monumentalism of ‘Dawn’. It is the Near East that is evoked in the Scheherazade-like ‘Fishermen’s Dance’. A pity that soloists are uncredited, as there is a lovely bassoon solo in ‘The Fisherman’s Solo Dance’ and a sweet-toned violin solo in ‘The Heavenly Maiden’s Dance’. The bright scoring of the final ‘The Heavenly Maiden’s Ascent to Heaven’ is entirely appropriate.

Performances are as dedicated as one would expect from a Japanese orchestra propagating its own music. Recording is of the highest quality (engineering is in the safe hands of Tony Faulkner, I see). All of which adds up to an entirely recommendable product that should not fail to delight.

Colin Clarke

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