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Komei ABE (1911-2006)
Symphony No.1 (1957) [18:54]
Divertimento for alto saxophone and orchestra (1951 orch. 1960) [19:58]
Sinfonietta (1964) [25:43]
Aleksey Volkov (alto saxophone)
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky
rec. Studio 5, Russian State TV and Radio Company, KULTURA, Moscow, September 2005
NAXOS 8.557987 [64:35]
Experience Classicsonline

Komei Abe was a generation younger than that pioneering Japanese composer Kósçak Yamada (1886-1965) and he inherited something of the older mans compositional zeal. He was born in Hiroshima in 1911 and studied in turn the violin and cello before entering Tokyo Music School. He formed a chamber group in which he played as a cellist, whilst studying under one of the many German émigrés then active in Japan, Heinrich Werkmeister, only three years Abes senior. He next came into contact with the Mahler protégé Klaus Pringsheim under whom Abe studied composition. In time he came to admire Hindemith whilst consolidating the late Romantic sensibility nurtured by Pringsheim. Abe once declared himself a "modern and international Japanese, rather than archaic Japanese" implicitly dissociating himself from nationalism from, as the notes say, de Falla, Stravinsky and Bartók. After the war during the latter part of which he served as an able seaman he strengthened neo-classical traits, fell under the influence of Carl Orffs music and became musical director of the imperial orchestra.

That period also saw the composition of the earliest work in this enterprising disc, the Divertimento for alto saxophone and orchestra. It was originally written for alto and piano but was orchestrated in 1960. Its couched in lyrical and rather light-hearted vein, tending to the nostalgic. At its heart is the Adagietto, nicely songful, unpretentious, and its conclusion is in the form of a rather breezy and Francophile, insouciant Allegro. Its an enjoyable work, though not overly distinctive.

His First Symphony followed in 1957. Its a bold, big three-movement work big in orchestration not necessary in terms of span, as it lasts nineteen minutes. Abe favours ostinati and a Kabalevsky-like intensity. The Adagietto Abe also favours Mahlerian Adagiettos over Adagios has a full complement of lissom lyricism though the cor anglais lines hearken back to the rather French influences explored in elements of the Divertimento. This axis, the Franco-German-Russian is a broad approximation of his stylistic imperatives. The finale is a pulsing affair with the principal trumpet of the Russian Philharmonic blaring out in time-honoured Gauk-Svetlanov fashion. Abe writes avidly for percussion as well but there is, to me at least, a bit of Soviet style vulgarity in this movement, even when the inevitable ostinati and an equally inevitable, slightly academic fugal section get going.

The Sinfonietta was composed in 1964. Its got a brimful of neoclassical stridency on/off percussive and brass fanfares. But the Moderato second movement is different the most Japanese music Abe ever wrote with its evocative sonorities and a wistful solo for the violin, Abes first instrumental love. There are perhaps elements of Honegger in the Scherzo snarling trumpets to the fore and a pounding, rather intense finale.

If by "rhythmic ostinato by the steam locomotive" Abe was referring to Honegger the clearest evidence for it in this disc is the Sinfonietta. All three works reflect the range of influences absorbed by Abe. Aleksey Volkov is the intrepid alto player and the Russian Philharmonic under the dynamic Yablonsky certainly takes opportunities to co-opt Abe to the Soviet Machinist School from time to time.

Exciting music energetically performed not always subtle its true but torridly lyric.

Jonathan Woolf

Exciting music energetically performed, not always subtle but torridly lyric ... see Full Review


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