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Hisato OHZAWA (1907 - 1953)
Piano Concerto No. 3 Kamikaze (1938) [26’19"]
Symphony No. 3 Symphony on the Founding of Japan (1937) [37’51"]
Ekaterina Saranceva (piano)
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky
rec. Studio 5, "KULTURA" Russian State TV and Radio Company, Moscow, 7–11 Oct 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.557416 [64’10"]



I found out, with this issue, that the word ‘Kamikaze’ (The Wind of God) began life not as a reference to Japanese suicide bombers in World War II but referred to a civil aircraft in the ’thirties which made record-breaking runs from Tokyo to London. I was expecting to hear violent effects in this work, but found that there were none. The third concerto hails from 1938; a work less like to fulfil the currently held perception of "Kamikaze" we are unlikely to hear.

The concerto is fairly anonymous, with pleasant, but by no means memorable themes, played well by the young Russian soloist Ekaterina Saranceva. She is accompanied very well. As well as this, we have one of Naxos’s very proficient recordings, well known by now from this source. The work is in three traditional movements and displays many of the influences Ohzawa gained from friends and teachers during his formative six year period spent in Paris but primarily in Boston. His teachers were Converse, Sessions and Schoenberg in Boston, and Ibert, Honegger, Ferroud and Gretchinanov in Paris.

The first movement of the concerto represents a flight by the plane. Its engines can be heard starting and the three note motif A Flat, E Flat, F on trombone and strings is the motto of the engine. After some exchanges between various sections of the orchestra, the plane takes off into the Allegro assai part of the movement. New themes are introduced which represent clouds and/or mist through which the plane flies to another three note motif (E Flat, B Flat, C,) which represent aerobatics. The first movement ends with a piccolo accompaniment to the plane moving out of sight.

The second movement is the music of a night flight (andante cantabile) with a faster middle section, returning to the slow ending. The fast section in the middle is influenced by jazz, no doubt picked up in America. The third movement has a slow introduction, followed by a rondo and coda. It also uses the three note motif used in the first movement. Again, jazz influences are to the fore, together with European Music Hall thematic material to represent the flight approaching Paris and London.

The whole concerto makes quite pleasant listening but certainly does not stretch the imagination in any way.

We then move on to the Third Symphony, written by the composer to celebrate the 2600th year of Japan in 1940. The Japanese government commissioned a number of works from celebrated composers such as Richard Strauss, Benjamin Britten, Charles Ives and Ildebrando Pizzetti. Ohzawa, not commissioned for this task, dedicated the symphony to the Emperor of his own accord.

The Symphony is traditionally written, in four movements, the first being a Sonata-form in D. There are many to-ings and fro-ings throughout this movement. These are meant to represent the history of Japan in the nineteenth century, when the country wavered between Orient and Occident, pre-modern and modern, sadness and joy.

There follows a ternary segment which acts as the slow movement, and is a Requiem to those who sacrificed themselves throughout Japan’s long history. Then comes a Moderato third movement in the form of a rondo. The finale, in free sonata form, including a regular European March and a very irregular Asian March, and eventually reaches an optimistic ending.

This is not a masterpiece by any means, but worthy of attention if you are on the lookout for some rare repertoire which is not too difficult.

John Phillips

see also review by Colin Clarke


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