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Saburo MOROI (1903 – 1977)
Sinfonietta in B flat For Children Op.24 (1943) [15:46]
Two Symphonic Movements Op.22 (1942) [19:09]
Symphony No. 3 Op.25 (1944) [33:20]
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland/Takuo Yuasa
Recorded: National Concert Hall, Dublin, September 2002
NAXOS 8.557162 [68:15]

Saburo Moroi, rather like his exact contemporary Qunihico Hashimoto (1904-1949), belongs to an earlier generation of Japanese composers mostly educated in the West; in Germany in Moroi’s case. Their slightly younger colleague Yasushi Akutagawa rather turned to Russia. As a result of these foreign influences their music displays very few Japanese characteristics, or – at least – traits that might be considered as such by Western listeners. They, for example, used very little folk material.

The three pieces heard here were all written during World War II, between 1942 and 1944. All three may be described as either neo-classical (e.g. the Sinfonietta) or post-romantic.

The Two Symphonic Movements Op.22 are purely abstract in a fairly traditional idiom, although we are told that the second theme in the Andante grandioso is based on a pentatonic scale often used in Kabuki and Geisha music. This must be the only mildly exotic element in otherwise traditional music that sometimes brings Sibelius and other lesser post-romantic composers to mind. However, this and the other works display a considerable formal and orchestral assurance, even if they do not sound particularly modern.

The Sinfonietta in B flat "For Children" Op.24 was written over a short period of 25 days. The composer conducted its first performance five days after completing it, when the ink was hardly dry. It is less ambitious in intent than, say, the Two Symphonic Movements, which is probably why it is on the whole more readily successful. In it the composer adopts a simpler, clearer, more overtly neo-classical idiom of great melodic charm.

As might be expected, the Symphony No.3 Op.25, often considered as the finest of Moroi’s five symphonies, is more ambitious. Although it is not programmatic, the music undoubtedly reflects the state of mind of Japanese artists and intellectuals in the last stages of the war. This is particularly evident in the third final movement Aspects of Death that starkly contrasts with the more overtly poetic and optimistic mood of the preceding movements. The symphony had to wait until 1950 to receive its first performance, at a time when its aesthetics were no longer fashionable. The first movement opens with a solemn introduction (A Tranquil Overture) leading into the main part of the movement Allegro vivace (Birth of Spirit and its Growth) roughly cast in sonata form. This is followed by a short Scherzo (About Humour and Wit) that opens light-heartedly but nevertheless ends martial and war-like; at odds with the apparent high spirits that its title might suggest. The final movement (Aspects of Death) is the emotional core. It is an elegiac threnody in memory of those who died during the war and of those who will die during the last months of the war. This is a "slow, sad procession" with which the dead souls bid their farewell. The heavily treading music moves implacably through Sibelian hymn-like passages and an eerie fugato before dying away peacefully. At the time he completed the Third Symphony, the composer could not know that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still to come. The finale probably contains some of the finest music heard in this disc. The Third Symphony is a deeply-felt, honest piece of music.

This is traditional stuff that should appeal to all those who respond to solid, warmly post-romantic and lushly scored music. Full marks for the players of the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland for playing with admirable commitment and conviction.

Hubert Culot

see also review by Gwyn Parry Jones


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