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
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
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
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.