OHGURI: Violin Concerto / Phantasy on Osaka Folk Tunes / Legend (Andrew Walton/ Kazuhiro Takagi/ Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra/ Tatsuya Shimono) (Naxos: 8.555321)
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Hiroshi Ohguri (1918-1982)
Violin Concerto Fantasy on Osaka Folk Tunes Legend for Orchestra
Rhapsody on Osaka Nursery Rhymes
Hiroshi Ohguri was one of the leading composers in Osaka, the central city of the western part of Japan. Not only was he born and brought up there, but he also embodied its culture and traditions in his music. Osaka is some four hundred kilometres to the west of Tokyo. The city is 2.5 hours away from Tokyo by express railway and one hour away by air. Its eastern side is adjacent to Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, where Emperors resided for some eleven hundred years from the eighth century, and its western side is adjacent to the harbour city Kobe. Osaka, which, like Kobe, is on the coast, grew as an important centre, and served practically as the capital when Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the most powerful samurai of the day, built a large castle there in the second half of the sixteenth century. After Hideyoshis death, his son Hideyori was defeated by Ieyasu Tokugawa and the centre of politics shifted to Edo, todays Tokyo, where the Tokugawas were based. Since then, Osaka has developed mainly as the centre of commerce, in competition with the capital Tokyo, where the Imperial family moved in the late nineteenth century.
In this context, Osaka has developed its own culture, which contrasts sharply with that of Tokyo. It has, for example, its own way of speaking, Osaka-ben, with intonation, stresses and vocabulary largely different from those in Tokyo, with its formality as the former city of shoguns, samurais and bureaucrats. Osaka-ben is more flexible, friendly and even ambiguous in some cases, as the language of a city of merchants. Their ways of communication are different, and while Tokyo people traditionally hide their feelings, and speak little but clearly, people in Osaka are talkative, lively and full of nuances in expressing their feelings, although they never disclose their real thoughts until they are persuaded after a good deal of discussion. If the Japanese are generally regarded as a people of few words, this is the impression given by Tokyo people. People in Osaka people are quite different.
The linguistic culture of Osaka, characterized by its talkativeness, gave birth to unique artistic styles. Kabuki in Osaka (Kamigata-Kabuki) has more speech than that in Tokyo and is dense and realistic in expression. Gidayu, a recitative-like play with a puppet show Bunraku, Kamigata-Rakugo, Kamigata-Manzai and Shochiku-Shin-Kigeki (Shochiku New Comedy) are also talkative, and are all performed in Osaka-ben, making the most of its own intonation and vocabulary. As to climate, the summer in Osaka is much hotter and more humid than that in Tokyo, although both lie at the same latitude. As a consequence, Osaka developed wilder summer festivals to lighten the heat and humidity.
Ohguri was born to a merchant family in Senba, the centre of commerce in Osaka with many rich merchants. His father was a good amateur Gidayu player. Ohguri grew up there, steeped in the traditional sounds of the place. It was in 1931 that he came to know European music, when he entered Tennoji Commercial High School in the southern part of Osaka. There he joined the wind ensemble and played the French horn. Frustrated by just playing an instrument, he started teaching himself composition. By the time he graduated from the school in 1936, he had made such progress that his works were performed by the school wind ensemble. Immediately after graduation, he followed tradition by working in his familys store instead of going on to college, but his enthusiasm for music eventually drove him to Tokyo. He studied the horn there and in 1941 started his professional career in the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, todays Tokyo Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, then led by Manfred Gurlitt. While performing many European classics in this orchestra, he was greatly stimulated by nationalist works by Japanese composers such as Akira Ifukube, Fumio Hayasaka and Urato Watanabe.
In 1946 Ohguri was appointed principal horn player of the Japan Symphony Orchestra, todays NHK Symphony Orchestra, but in 1949 he resigned and returned to Osaka, where in 1950 he joined the Kansai Symphony Orchestra, from 1960 known as the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra, the orchestra here recorded. He continued with the orchestra until 1966. The Kansai Symphony was founded in 1947 by the conductor Takashi Asahina (1908-2001), and was the first professional orchestra in Osaka. The leading Japanese conductor Asahina studied with Emmanuel Metter, a pupil of Glazunov, who came to Japan by way of Harbin, and nurtured the orchestra from its foundation, serving as its artistic director until his death. He also appeared as guest-conductor with the Berlin Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony. There was a close bond of trust between Ohguri and Asahina all their lives.
While working as an orchestra player, Ohguri always continued his early interest in composition. In 1955 his opera Akai Jinbaori (The Red Combat Jacket), a Japanese adaptation of Pedro Antonio de Alarcóns Three-Cornered Hat, the subject of de Fallas ballet, was first performed in Osaka under Asahina. It was a great success. Fantasy on Osaka Folk Tunes, composed for Asahina the following year, was also favourably received, and Ohguri established himself as the Composer of Osaka. He thereafter wrote many orchestral works for the Kansai Symphony, becoming its virtual composer in residence. He also wrote a variety of music, operas, cantatas, musicals, ballets, choral works, chamber works, music for radio and television, works for mandolin orchestra and Japanese traditional instruments, as well as works for the familiar wind ensemble. In addition to the works recorded here, Ohguris major works include the opera Meoto-Zenzai (A Wonderful Couple), Concerto for Orchestra, first performed by Asahina and the Weimar Orchestra, Jigoku-Hen (Transfiguration in Hell), a ballet based on Ryunosuke Akutagawas novel, Flight, dedicated to Asahina for the fortieth anniversary of his conducting career, and Kamen-Genso (Mask-Fantasy), for wind ensemble. Most of these works reflect the sounds of Osaka-ben, using folk-songs and nursery rhymes of the Osaka area, Buddhist and Shintoist music, and traditional sounds of Japanese music such as Noh, Kyogen, Kabuki and Bunraku, as well as suggesting the nationalist music of Bartók, Kodály, Khachaturian and Japanese composers of the same generation. The strong relationship between his music and provincialism has given rise to a legend that only players and ensembles from Osaka can interpret his music correctly. In fact his "talkative" Allegros, characterized by restless accents, are imbued with the spirit of Osaka.
Ohguris Violin Concerto was commissioned in 1963 by Mainichi Hoso (Mainichi Broadcasting Station) in Osaka and was first performed on 28th November of the same year, with the Osaka Philharmonic under Asahina and the soloist Hisako Tsuji. The work consists of three movements. The first of these, marked Allegro, is written in plain sonata form. The solo violin plays the vigorous first theme over a side-drum rhythm, suggesting typical Shinto festival music. The orchestra follows and the music becomes exciting, when a quasi-scherzo episode in the wind introduces the folk-song-like cantabile second theme on the solo violin, a skilful mixture of typical Japanese pentatonic scales, Inaka-bushi and Miyako-bushi. The development, which starts with the same rhythm on the side-drum, treats mainly the first theme in a dense musical texture. The recapitulation and the breathtaking coda are also introduced by the side-drum. According to the composer the main fea