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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 (1939) [9:32]
Hiromi Okada (piano)
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky
rec. April 29-May 5, 2005 at Studio 5 of the Russian State TV and Radio Company Kultura, Moscow
NAXOS 8.557819 [52:51]

The Naxos label began, literally and figuratively, as a marriage between East and West.  German businessman Klaus Heymann found himself in Hong Kong starting a classical music recording label.  One of its first successes was the recording of “The Butterfly Lovers Concerto,” a work in a Western classical genre composed by Shanghai music students Chen Gang and He Zhanhao.  Heymann’s wife, Takako Nishizaki, was the soloist.  More recently, Naxos has embarked on series of both Japanese and Chinese classical music.
It can be hard to keep up with everything Naxos is doing.  It is easy, especially, for composers so completely unknown, at least in the West, to escape notice of a Western listener and reviewer.  We should, however, take notice of Humiwo Hayasaka.  He had a short life, dying at age 41 from a long bout of tuberculosis.  In his short life he fought numerous obstacles in order to maintain his passionate drive to compose music.  Hayasaka had to leave school at age 16 in order to support his siblings after his father’s departure and mother’s death.  Yet he maintained contact with the young musicians and ideas, as if missing out on conservatory training were a minor hindrance.  He sought to combine new trends from the West — the work of Debussy, Ravel, Satie, and Stravinsky foremost — with ancient Japanese forms and scales, and even a strong dose of Gregorian chant.  Like Malcolm Arnold, he earned his living — in Hayasaka’s case, for most of his adult life — by writing film music.  While working for the nascent Japanese industry, he — again, like the Brit — still prolifically composed concert music.
Hayasaka’s Piano Concerto is, quite simply, a great work in late Romantic style.  Though influence by Ravel’s Concerto for Left Hand, its bravura style and lush, dark orchestration are redolent of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov.  It is a work fully qualified to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in such august company.  The first movement is somber, serving as a requiem for the composer’s dead brother and more generally as an elegy for the values of the past.  The second movement, however, launches into rollicking dancing.  According to the composer, “I intended to combine modern mobility with the innocent epicurean character of Oriental people, a little different from Occidental humour.”  The result is a virtuosic perpetuum mobile.
Pianist Hiromi Okada is as new to me as the composer.  The notes indicate that he is the leading exponent of contemporary Japanese piano music.  It is easy to hear why.  He has the strength and speed that virtuosity demands, while maintaining a clear shape to the work’s architecture and properly inflecting (but not overinflecting) each phrase.  Yablonsky and the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra might seem unlikely companions, and perhaps Oriental, as opposed to Occidental, forces would more strongly articulate the specifically Japanese features that Hayasaka put into the work.
The Ancient Dances on the Left and on the Right - named after a traditional Japanese dance integrating many forms of Asian music - sounds a bit like the short orchestral or film music of Shostakovich; they even have occasional Orientalisms in common.  Hayasaka sees this as a concert work, though, so it maintains a coherency of drama and musical story that can elude the Russian’s more populist works.  The Overture in D is a fine example of its genre, an insistent, rousing piece that could have come from the pen of Khatchaturian.  The composer claimed that “this is an attempt at bolero form.”  While there is no sense of the Spanish, there is a similar sense of relentless drive to the end.
This is a disc that I expect to return to often.  Those interested in a great late-Romantic-sounding piano concerto, and a couple of very good orchestral pieces on the side, should get this.  I hope Naxos records more Hayasaka.  I also hope that some adventurous programmer will consider getting this audience-friendly music into the world’s concert halls.
Brian Burtt

see also review by Rob Barnett



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