Symphony No.4 in E flat, Romantic
(Robert Haas edition)
NHK Symphony Orchestra conducted by Takashi Asahina
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: May 2002
CD No: FONTEC FOCD9150
I was sorry indeed to hear that Takashi Asahina had died at the turn of 2002, aged 93. A somewhat enigmatic figure to us in the West, his reputation in Japan seems to have been altogether god-like. In recent years if he gave a concert it was recorded; indeed, if he played the same concert the following night it too was taped and released.
My first encounter with his work was a recording of Wilhelm Furtwangler’s Second Symphony. Then came Bruckner’s First Symphony with the Osaka Philharmonic for Canyon Classics, a powerful, structure-conscious reading sufficiently impressive for me to invest in his Osaka cycle of symphonies 1-9. Then more Bruckner: symphonies 5 and 7-9 with the Tokyo Symphony, also for Canyon, followed by an appraisal of his earlier Bruckner for Fontec. I believe Asahina recorded four Bruckner cycles.
In the last couple of years, a steady stream of Asahina CDs has been issued in Japan, including more Bruckner symphonies that are adjuncts to the cycles; this release being an example, which is very impressive.
Recorded in November 2000, Asahina conducts probably Japan’s finest orchestra in its own Hall. Whatever Furtwangler’s influence on Asahina, his conducting rarely, if ever encompasses what one might term Furtwanglerisms; indeed, he is closer to Bohm and Klemperer. In general, from the recordings of Asahina that I have (which includes Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Tchaikovsky and Verdi’s Requiem), I would cite him as a ’central’ interpreter, more fluent than heroic, a musician who valued musical articulacy and the long-view, and who trusted the composer. Like Klemperer, Asahina could be slow – in Beethoven and Brahms especially – for textural clarification and delineation of structure. In the warm sound he produces from his orchestras, and in the yielding but never mawkish phrasing that is integrated into the whole, he recalls a Karl Bohm-like buoyancy and Viennese comfort.
Asahina’s ’Romantic’ is then a recent example of his Bruckner. I do not know how many Romantics he recorded (except I’ve got others!) and this ’late’ example of his Bruckner-conducting is especially fine. At 68 minutes, Asahina sculpts a spacious reading, one that is lyrically fiery and songful, one that blazes without over-playing dynamics, and one always in search of the summit without precipitation. A meticulous rehearser, there have been occasions when I’ve felt Asahina to be over-literal – worthy but dull, painstaking if uninspired. This ’Romantic’ is magnificent, perfectly paced, not least the ’Andante, quasi Allegretto’ second movement, and engrosses in its focus and commitment.
Omnipresent is a phrasal and dynamic light-and-shade, a beauty of sound, a careful blend of timbres, and satisfying symmetry of programmatic allusion and symphonic reach. The NHKSO plays superbly, its strings outstanding, the audience commendably quiet and attentive. The immediate recording doesn’t compromise Asahina’s appreciation of Bruckner’s inner world.