Japanese Orchestral Music

0 of 5 stars

Atsutada Otaka
Fantasy for Organ and Orchestra
Toru Takemitsu
Nami no Bon
Toshio Hosokawa
Memory of the Sea (Hiroshima Symphony)

Bryan Ashley (organ)
Sapporo Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tadaaki Otaka

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: February 2001
CD No: CHAN 9876

This CD offers a feast of spectacular orchestral writing and superb sound quality. The best-known composer here, of course, is the late Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996), a master of the refined thought and gifted with a fabulous ear for colour. If you’re familiar with some of his concert works, then Nami no Bon may surprise. This is music for a television drama ’set around the conflict between first and second generation Japanese-Hawaiians during the Pacific War’. It’s a most beautiful score, one brimming with romance, pathos and seductive harmonies – the lushness is recognisable as TV music, but raised above the genre’s typical processes by Takemitsu’s luminous chords and deep sincerity. This ravishing music is very sensitively played, and very moving. Ran also has an ’incidental’ stimulus – this is music Takemitsu wrote for Akira Kurosawa’s film. Vivid and atmospheric, Takemitsu’s scoring includes wind-machine; the music is dark, tremulous and sinister, the last movement – with its gong-strokes and cor anglais solo – relates the heavy air of Mahler’s Abschied from Das Lied von der Erde.

Atsutada Otaka (born 1944) is the conductor’s elder brother. His title is well chosen – calling something a fantasy allows both an open-ended structure and unrelated events to co-exist. Otaka’s half-hour piece for organ and orchestra is quite effective in its pensive ambience and its dramatic building of climaxes. Taken at face value, Otaka’s Fantasy, for all its incident and power, holds the attention not for memorable musical ideas but for its potency.

The shorter, 20-minute, Hiroshima Symphony comes from the youngest composer, Toshio Hosokawa, born in 1955. His experience of the city is post-Atomic bomb. As the conductor relates in his liner notes, “… the Hiroshima [Hosokawa] grew up in was a city surrounded by attractive countryside that made a remarkable recovery from enormous tragedy”. Hosokawa’s ’paean to invisible power’ includes two groups of instrumentalists separate from each other and away from the main orchestra – to give a ’three-dimensional echo effect’. It’s a carefully considered piece, gestural in make-up, but with a sense of growth and an overriding presence of elements forming, dividing, dying and re-forming. Pointillist in creation, amorphous in expression, Hosokawa certainly has an aural imagination – and a compositional logic even when the music is at its most improvisatory. The performances are consistently excellent and committed.

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