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Humiwo HAYASAKA (1914-1955)
Piano Concerto (1948) [32:41]
Ancient Dances on the Left and on the Right (1941) [10:39]
Overture in D major (1939) [9:32]
Hiromi Okada (piano)
Russian Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky
rec. Studio 5, State Broadcasting, Moscow, Russia, 29 April 2005-5 May 2005



Hayasaka’s claim to fame rests currently on his 1950s film scores for Kurosawa’s Rashomon and The Seven Samurai. In fact he wrote about a hundred scores for the cinema. There are chamber and concert works too including the fifty minute symphonic suite Yukara written four months before his death as well as Movement in Metamorphosis for orchestra (1953), String Quartet (1950) and Seventeen Pieces for piano (1941). 

He was born in Sendai, North Japan and after falling on hard times moved to Sapporo. Orphaned, he had to go out to work. In his own time he studied music and developed a proselytising performing interest in twentieth century music.

His two movement Piano Concerto (I 22:22; II 10:19) was premiered in Tokyo on 25 June 1948. The long first movement is broodingly contemplative and poignantly melodic. There are echoes of Rota and Rachmaninov. The writing displays a sumptuous romantic tendency with a sense of gentle cinematic longing winding though its pages. This rises at the end to a briefly pummelling intensity and fades back into nostalgic quietude. The shorter second (and last) movement is light-hearted recalling elements of Milhaud and Gershwin with an occasional romantic aside. It’s all very attractive. 

In the Concerto there are only wispy hints of what we may recognise as typical traditional Japanese music; not so with the Ancient Dances on the Left and on the Right. The title and the writing have their origins in courtly Gagaku a subset of which is Bugaku – orchestral music accompanying dance. The Ancient Dances make prominent use of percussion including gong and bass drum. The cast of the writing assigned to the woodwind is also instantly recognisable to Western ears as oriental. This is music that conveys mystery and ceremony.

The Overture is a symphonic march with nationalistic elements as in the Ancient Dances but with a more outgoing and even jaunty character. Do not be surprised if you catch yourself thinking of RVW’s March of the Kitchen Utensils from the music for Aristophanes’ Wasps. The march theme is repeated Bolero-like each time dressed in new orchestration.

Hayasaka was friendly with another Japanese composer, Akira Ifukube (1914-2006) whose music can be heard on Naxos 8.555071 and 8.557587. A predilection for corny marches demonstrated by Ifukube’s 250 plus film scores – and especially Godzilla (1954) – can also be heard in Hayasaka’s Overture in D.

This is a well documented disc that is too easily lost in the torrent of new releases. That would be a pity as the music is attractive in a rather conservative way – especially the Piano Concerto.

Rob Barnett


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