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Not currently available but an important set and ait is hoped this review will stir interest perhaps at decca or reissue companies such as Naxos or Arkivmusic.

Ikuma DAN (1924–2001)
Six Symphonies [223.29]
CD 1

Symphony No. 1 in A, (1950) [22.54]
Symphony No. 2 in B Flat, (1956) [50.17]
CD 2

Symphony No. 3 (for Two Movements), (1960) [24.52]
Symphony No. 4 (1964) [31.24]
CD 3

Symphony No. 5 (1965) [40.23]
CD 4

Symphony No. 6 "Hiroshima" (1985) [53.22]
Anna Pusar (soprano); Michiko Akao (Nokan, Shinobue)
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Kazuo Yamada (1, 2)/Ikuma Dan (3-6)
rec. Konzerthaus "Grosser-Saal" Vienna: (1, 2) 27 June–2 July 1988; (4, 5) 4 January–7 January 1989; (3, 6) 29 June–2 July 1989
DECCA UCCD-3057/60 [4 CDs: 73.18 + 56.26 + 40.23 + 53.22]

Before the current, continuing Japanese Classics series on Naxos and before the invaluable Camerata releases - there was this set of the six symphonies of Ikuma Dan. It was released by Decca in 1990 and is regrettably no longer available.

The booklet’s biographical notes are in Japanese with a brief synopsis of each symphony in German and the English text of Edmund Blunden’s poem "Hiroshima, a Song for August 6, 1946" with a Japanese translation.

As early as 1912 with Igor Stravinsky’s 3 Japanese Lyrics, composers such as the American Charles Tomlinson Griffes with his 1917 work Sho-jo – a pantomime based on Japanese themes – and his Five Poems of Ancient China and Japan, were discovering Asian music. Later on others, such as Colin McPhee and Henry Cowell became profoundly involved with Asian repertories. In 1962, after returning from a visit to Japan, Olivier Messiaen composed his Sept Haïkaï with its textures and melodies approximating closely the sound of a Japanese ensemble. When in the early 1960s Karlheinz Stockhausen visited Japan, he became seriously interested in its culture and perceptions, resulting in his tape-piece Telemusik, composed there in 1966.

During World War II, nearly all Western music – with the exception of that from Germany and Italy – was prohibited in Japan. After the war that all changed and since 1950 – the year of Dan’s First Symphony – more than 75 Japanese composers have written over 170 symphonies!

Ikuma Dan was born in Tokyo in April of 1924, a descendant of a noble and rich heritage. His grandfather, Baron Takuma Dan, was president of Mitsui & Co. and was assassinated by a rightist in 1932. He began learning to play the piano at the age of seven and eventually enrolled in the Tokyo Music Academy in 1942, studying with Saburo Moroi and Kan-ichi Shimofusa, both of whom had studied in Germany in the 1930s. In 1944 he enlisted in the Toyama Military Band School and after the war joined the Japanese public broadcaster NHK as a Chartered Composer. He formed a group "The Three" with his friends and fellow composers Yasushi Akutagawa and Toshiro Mayuzumi. Their activities led the Japanese music scene in the 1950s. In 1952 he composed the work that would gain him national attention – the opera Yuzuru (The Twilight Crane) the first of seven operas he was eventually to produce and which has been performed more than 600 times. 1952 also saw Dan compose the first of over 200 subsequent film-scores with the production of Sword for Hire. Dan’s success led him to be chosen to create a celebratory wedding march in 1959 for the Crown Prince Akihito and to compose the opening music for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

As time went on Dan became more and more involved in writing essays, guest-lecturing at some of China’s most renowned academies, conducting the Beijing and Shanghai orchestras. He was also named President of the Sino-Japanese Cultural Exchange Association. In fact, Dan died in May of 2001 in China of heart failure during a visit as head of a delegation of the SJCEA, the year after "Dan Year 2000" a nationwide celebration of his music.

Dan also studied with Paul Hindemith and the great Japanese composer and pedagogue – Koscak Yamada (1886-1965), Japan’s "first symphonist" – who also discovered the conductor of the first two works in this set – Kazuo Yamada (1912-1991). Dan completed Yamada’s opera The Princess Shian-Fei that was left unfinished after World War II. It was first performed in 1981.

The six symphonies which comprise this collection span a 35 year period from 1950 to 1985. They represent the progression of Dan’s musical development although the configuration of his orchestras changes little within the cycle. In studying these works however, one can recognize the essential differences from Western music – the sense of time, the sense of space and the sensitivity to color and tone.

Symphony #1 in A (1950)

This work can easily be sub-titled "Romantic" or "Tragic". In one movement, marked Andante maestoso-Allegro and about the length of a Haydn symphony, it is reminiscent of a Richard Strauss tone-poem. It is immediately accessible, Russian and English influenced - Dan greatly admired the music of Britten. The symphony tied with Yasushi Akutagawa’s Music for Orchestra for first place in Japanese Radio’s (NHK) 25th Anniversary Competition in 1950.

The beginning recalls Tchaikovsky and is tonal in style, deep and emotional in its musical language. It starts with a marked brass theme that remains the main theme throughout. It will alternate with a more lyrical motif strongly evocative of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony #2.

Then along comes a scherzo, languid and pulsating like waves - almost a direct quotation from Wagner’s Die Fliegende Hollander. All this develops into a fugue leading to a close with a combination of all the preceding themes. The work ends pianissimo like a dirge – solemn and softly, profoundly moving.

The Vienna Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Kazuo Yamada handles the flow of lyricism and tension with an appropriate combination of power and aplomb.

Symphony #2 in B Flat (1956)

This work is in three movements, over twice the length of its predecessor and its construction is much more complicated.

The first movement (Andante serioso-Allegro ma non tanto) is twice as long as each of the two that follow. The initial theme is reminiscent of the beginning of Sibelius’s Symphony #1, muted and mysterious. This opening acts as a prelude for the rest of the piece, a real "tension-builder". The slow and lumbering pace, with the cellos playing low and a Brucknerian pause leads us into a swirling, windy nature motif. The interplay between the strings and woodwinds is lovely – Japanese flavored. This can almost be music for a Japanese Western movie (is there such a thing?) so reminiscent of Dvorak’s New World Symphony. An absolutely ravishing melody appears with the violins soaring above the cellos recalling the opening of Prokofiev’s Symphony #7 - composed just four years earlier - only to be interrupted by the clash of cymbals. The coda brings us back to the cellos flirting with the oboes and flutes playing softly, building into the movement’s gloriously heroic ending.

The second movement (Andante con moto) is dominated by a Japanese "feel" commencing with a quiet, far-off processional theme punctuated by a tambourine, suggestive of a rite of some sort or a ritualistic dance. One may all but breathe the fragrance of cherry blossoms and lotus-flower and envision the ancient gardens, temples and wooded hills. The music fades quietly and enigmatically to a close.

This leads directly into the third movement (Allegro con brio) with the horns calling into action, a frantic dance recalling the Allegretto from Shostakovich’s Symphony #8; violins play pizzicato and rush forward with the military drums heralding a march. Abruptly, a melancholy tune emerges played by the violins looking back to the first movement. This is underlined and held aloft by the horns devolving gradually to the symphony’s ominous end.

It’s quite obvious that both conductor and orchestra have a strong affection for this music. Yamada elicits playing that is precise and heartfelt and induces the strings in particular to perform exquisitely.

Symphony #3 (for 2 Movements) (1960)

When relations with the Soviet Union were normalized in 1956 and the US-Japan Security Treaty was renewed in 1960 the result was much public unrest in Japan. This symphony, completed in New York, reflects the turmoil of the times. Dan has said that "the oppressive power of the massive skyscrapers" made him re-connect to his Japanese heritage. Whereas in the two preceding works Dan’s debt to Western influences are clear, here a more distinctive voice is apparent.

This piece, Dan’s most widely played symphony, is decidedly unlike its predecessor in size and in the handling of the orchestra; for instance, gone are the sweet strings. Both movements tend to be repetitive and monotone although the instrumentation here is masterful and the music keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout.

The first movement (Andante sostenuto) opens strangely and darkly with a distant flute leading into a plaintive oboe. This brief introduction is quickly replaced by what can be termed music that is taut and psychological. Once again Shostakovich comes to mind – this was around the time of Shostakovich’s Symphonies #11 and 12 and his String Quartets #7 and 8. This is troubling and uncomfortable music, utterly physical and flirting with atonality – a clear departure from his first two symphonies. The horns play a central role in this chilling sound-world and towards the end of the movement we hear the first and only trace of "Japan", and this not for long. We end with a solo flute playing sweetly, perhaps sarcastically; only to be stopped dead in its tracks.

The next movement (Allegro) rushes forward "volante" with horns, cellos, oboes, violins and flutes taking turns with a xylophone and chimes in the background. This is apocalyptic music with the first respite coming about 5 minutes in – the eye of the storm - a soaring melody by now characteristic of Dan with the violins gliding above the cellos. The orchestration is plainly that of a master, the brutality of expression giving way to resignation, then a final march towards the cliff - and the wild ride is over.

The composer himself leads the Viennese forces here and the playing is remarkably well suited to this exhilarating music.

Symphony #4 (1964)

When Eugene Ormandy first traveled to Japan with his fabled Philadelphia Orchestra in the spring of 1967, performing to sold-out audiences all over the country, the highlight of the trip was undoubtedly their participation in the 10th annual Osaka International Festival. It was on that occasion that they performed this symphony to great critical acclaim. There is a Conducting Score inscribed by Ikuma Dan to Ormandy reading: "With Thanks and Best Wishes, 1 hour before your performance of this symphony in Osaka, 5th May, 1967" – is it possible anyone had a tape recorder running?

This symphony, composed in 1964 the year of the aforementioned Tokyo Olympics, has a clear and formal classical set-up in four movements – the only four movement work in Dan’s cycle of symphonies.

The first movement (Allegro ma non troppo) recalls Aram Khachaturian from the outset – a repetitive staccato theme played on the piccolos then the strings later mirrored by the brass. What is by now Dan’s signature Modus Operandi – the cellos playing low and tragically with the violins emoting overhead takes the movement into its second theme, the flutes and piccolos underlining the strings and percussion. This truly is a collage of conflicted sound.

The second movement (Adagio) begins with a lilting theme on the violins strongly reminiscent of Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto – an ultra-slow waltz, a slow dance. The piccolo briefly returns punctuating the pushing and pulling between the strings and horns. A Sibelius-like fanfare on the horns contrasts the undulating strings – the tensions here quite akin to the interplay between piano and orchestra in the second movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #4. This Adagio is perfectly wrought and one can only imagine what the Philadelphians made of it forty years ago!

This next movement (Tempo di minuetto [Allegretto]) is so very interesting - commencing with a Stravinskian dance, this is ballet music. I would love to know what Massine or Balanchine would have done with it – a "Japanese Petrouchka" if you will. The comedic mood is irresistible and the simplicity of the orchestration is nothing short of genius – quite economical.

The fourth and final movement (Allegro con brio) is the shortest section by half – compact and action-filled. The music races forward with the violins weaving through the orchestra at a frantic pace – breathlessly. The symphony slams shut with two final beats from the bass drum.

The VSO’s playing here is superb, the percussion particularly impressive and the strings beyond criticism. Dan leads an authoritative performance, technically quite extraordinary.

Symphony #5 (1965)

Written only one year after its predecessor, this work is relatively dissimilar and formal in its development.

The first movement (Andante sostenuto-Allegro moderato) begins with a very short and unusual introductory string quartet; you can sense the influence of Hindemith in the theme. The orchestra enters in a serious and somber mood, the cellos offering a nostalgic melody with the French horns briefly joining in. The pace picks up toward the center of the movement leading to a charming tune introduced by the violins and flutes as the horns and strings intertwine. The latter section has the orchestra ardently playing in full-force until the cellos return with the solemn melody of the opening preceding the movement’s energetic end.

The next section (Scherzo [Allegro vivo]) has a distinct "Old Viennese" feel to it. This is vigorous, muscular music, the language exceptionally clear - so light and airy that it could be mistaken for Hugo Wolf. Swirling flutes with bells and chimes, wave-like movement recalling Dan’s own Symphony #1.

The finale (Ten Variations on an Old-Fashioned Theme) consists of ten contrasting variations. The horns introduce the theme intermittently with a solo clarinet and the violins interpolate a lovely motif taken up by bird-like voicing on the flute - this is "love music", a courtship between strings and horns. The subsequent variations increase in tension until the seventh which for me is the highlight of the work – a poignant string quartet followed by an idyllic harp and woodwinds. Dan composed relatively little chamber music although his final composition was to be a piece for string quartet entitled Black and Yellow. The final three variations lead directly from one to the next ending the symphony on an uplifting note.

Dan leads an impressive reading of this unique work and the playing is that of a world-class ensemble.

Symphony #6 "Hiroshima" (1985)

Twenty years were to pass before Dan felt compelled to compose another symphony. The occasion was the 40th Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945. Dan previously composed a symphonic poem for mixed chorus and orchestra entitled Nagasaki in 1974; now he was once again to depict one of the darkest and brutal events in human history … In one instant, mankind would never again be the same.

This work cannot be compared with any of the preceding five symphonies. This is very emotional music incorporating a Nokan and a Shinobue. These are traditional Japanese flutes played masterfully here by Michiko Akao, recognized worldwide as a pioneer of the "Yokobue", having commissioned over 100 works and having been awarded the "Distinguished Artist Prize" by the Japan Ministry of Education in 1982.

The first movement (Andante ma non troppo, quasi andante sostenuto) starts with the strings and the nokan anticipating the impending doom, briefly recalling Shostakovich’s Symphony #8 as well as the "Agitato" from Alfred Schnittke’s String Quartet #2 from 1980. There is a feeling of great sorrow here, a calm sadness and serenity exchanged between the nokan and the strings, the cellos in particular – a heartbreaking melody. The drums and cymbals interject; symbolizing the harsh reality of the catastrophe as the nokan reappears playing more desperately. A charming melody offers a brief, temporary respite – a melancholy lament. The tragedy in this music is undeniable and the movement ends with the eerie, surreal wail of the nokan fading into silence.

The second movement (Allegro ritnico) begins without a break, a kind of bizarre dance played by the violins and cellos. The introduction of Japanese folk music is especially memorable – the shinobue playing a nostalgic cadenza beautifully complemented by the orchestra. This is a touch of humanity amidst the atrocity and shortly to be broken by the tolling of a bell.

The final movement (Andante sostenuto e funebre) commences with a dirge, a procession with the nokan playing - not quite as sweetly, but just as sadly. This music grasps you very deeply and the effect is quite profound – reminiscent of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #6. The exquisite Slovenian lyric soprano Anna Pusar enters angelically, singing in English, Edmund Blunden’s poem "Hiroshima, a Song for August 6, 1945":

Out of the night that covered her
The stricken town began to stir,
Out of bewilderment extreme,
The fierce vexation of a dream,
She raised herself in parching pain;
And no man heard her once complain.

It seemed, for what was gone forever,
Speedily woke a new endeavor;
Out of darkness, out of fire,
Sprang new radiance, new desire;
The stricken city rose to see
Not was has been but what will be

Hiroshima! No finer pride
Did ever earthly city guide
Than yours, to be the happy nest
Where the glad dove of peace may rest,
Where all may come from all the earth
To glory in mankind’s rebirth!

This solo, so suggestive of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, undoubtedly crowns the work and underlines the importance of the piece and its ultimate message – the glorious resurrection of a suffering city. The symphony ends magnificently in affirmation.

It’s fascinating that Dan chose to perform the text in English – perhaps the sentiment and message meant to be directed more westward than eastward?

It’s also interesting to compare this symphony with two of the better known works composed on the subject of Hiroshima – Masao Ohki’s Symphony #5 "Hiroshima" composed in 1953 and Krzysztof Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima of 1960. Ohki’s piece, composed only eight years after the event is the more literally depicted and subjective having much more in common in substance with Penderecki’s work than with Dan’s. Dan has the benefit of forty years of history passing and transfiguring that fateful day, while Ohki could still "smell the blood on the land". Whereas Dan’s effort ends with hope and glory, Ohki’s ends with an elegy.

That being said, all three works belong in any serious collection and each is profoundly affecting and moving in its own way.

Suffice to say that these symphonies have been quite an enriching and enlightening experience with the playing of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra consistently excellent throughout. There is no doubt that Ikuma Dan’s works warrant greater exposure and all enterprising labels – specifically Naxos – should not hesitate any longer. For starters, 1 and 6 would fit on a disc quite nicely. And may I respectfully suggest to the powers-that-be that they re-release this set as an important historical document?

Osvaldo Polatkan

Finally, here is a partial list of symphonic works (many that have been recorded) by Japanese composers you may find worthy of further investigation:

Koscak Yamada:
Symphony in F major "Triumph & Peace", 1912
Choreographic Symphony "Maria Magdalena", 1916
Sinfonia "Inno Meiji", 1921
Naguata Symphony "Tsurukame", 1934
Hisato Ozhawa:
Symphony #3 "Symphony of the Founding of Japan", 1937
Qunihico Hashimoto
Symphony #1, 1940
Saburo Moroi
Symphony #3, 1944
Yasushi Akutagawa
Trinita Sinfonica, 1948
Ellora Symphony, 1958
Ostinato Sinfonica, 1967
Akira Ifukube
Sinfonia Tapkaara, 1954
Komei Abe
Symphony #1, 1957
Akio Yashiro
Symphony, 1958
Toshiro Mayuzumi
Nirvana Symphony, 1958
Mandala Symphony, 1960
Yoshiro Irino
Sinfonia, 1959
Minao Shibata
Sinfonia, 1960
Sadao Bekku
Symphony #1, 1961
Symphony #3 "Spring", 1985
Symphony #5, 1999
Teizo Matsumura
Symphony, 1965
Mareo Ishiketa
Sinfonia in Fa, 1966
Teruyuki Noda
Symphony #1, 1966
Shin-ichiro Ikebe
Symphonie pour grande orchestre, 1967
Symphony #3 "Ego Phano", 1984
Symphony #5 "Simplex", 1990
Roh Agura
Symphony in G, 1968
Shin Sato
Sinfonia #3, 1979
Takashi Yoshimatsu
Symphony #1 "Kamu-Chikap", 1990
Symphony #2 "At Terra", 1991
Shuko Mizuno
Symphony #2 "Sakura", 1991
Symphony #3, 1997
Symphony #4, 2003
Toshi Ichiyanagi
Symphony #5 "Time Perspective", 1997
Toshio Hosokawa
Hiroshima Symphony "Memory of the Sea", 1998
Akira Nishimura
Symphony #3 "Inner Light", 2003


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