OHZAWA: Piano Concerto No. 3, 'Kamikaze' / Symphony No. 3 (Dmitry Yablonsky/ Ekaterina Saranceva/ Lubov Doronina/ Russian Philharmonic Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.557416)
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Hisato Ohzawa (1907-1953)
Piano Concerto No. 3 'Kamikaze' Symphony No. 3 'Symphony of the Founding of Japan'
Hisato Ohzawa was long forgotten as a composer.
Although he was certainly one of the foremostcomposers in Japan, his works were completelyneglected after his sudden death in 1953, mainlybecause he was basically a self-reliant man,independent of the Japanese music world. This neglectis a great injustice which, half a century later, is to someextent reversed by the present recording of workscarefully preserved by his family.
Ohzawa was born on 1st August 1907 in Kobe, oneof the biggest port cities in the western part of Japan.
His father was an engineer and entrepreneur, who hadstudied steel manufacturing in England and became afounding member of Kobe Seiko (Kobe Steel Ltd.), oneof the leading companies in the Japanese steel industry.
His Christian mother played a primary r??le inintroducing young Ohzawa to organ and choral music.
He studied the piano with a White Russian and aSpaniard living in Kobe and after entering thedepartment of commercial science of Kansei Gakuen,became an active member of the choral and orchestralclubs and as a choral conductor, as well as continuinghis piano studies and teaching himself music theory.
Already in adolescence he was well known in Kobe as astudent almost of professional standard. On hisgraduation in 1930 he went to the United States to studycomposition, harmony, counterpoint, orchestration,piano and conducting under Frederick Converse, RogerSessions, and others, at Boston University and the NewEngland Conservatory of Music. He also took lessonswith Schoenberg, who had just settled in Boston, takingrefuge from the Nazis.
Ohzawa's American teachers thought highly of histalent and he received considerable assistance fromscholarships, enabling him to give recitals of his ownchamber works and songs in Boston. He alsomaintained a friendly relationship with the BostonSymphony and became the first Japanese musician toconduct the orchestra, performing his Little Symphony.
In 1933 he graduated with his Piano Concerto No.1. Hisother works during his time in America include thelarge-scale Symphony No.1, which requires nearly anhour for performance, and a Double Bass Concertodedicated to Sergei Koussevitzky.
After completing his studies in America in 1934,Ohzawa moved to Paris and studied with NadiaBoulanger at the Ecole Normale de Musique. He alsotook several lessons with Paul Dukas in his final yearsand made friends with Roussel, Florent Schmitt, Ibertand Tansman. In the following year, he gave the firstperformances of his Symphony No. 2 and PianoConcerto No. 2, both written in Paris, conducting thePasdeloup Orchestra with the soloist Henri Gil-Marchex. Praised and encouraged by Ibert, Honegger,Ferroud and Grechaninov, he returned to Japan in highspirits in February 1936, for the first time in six years.
The years in Boston and Paris marked Ohzawa'sformative period. In fact his music had already shownearly maturity, influenced by the music of leadingcontemporaries, American popular music and thetraditional music of Japan, and drawing onimpressionism, expressionism, futurism and neoclassicism,and sometimes even on microtonality andatonality. Immediately after his return to Japan in 1936,he held concerts in the two biggest cities, Tokyo andOsaka, and performed his Symphony No. 2 and PianoConcerto No. 2, the latter with the soloist Leo Sirota,under his own direction. From the audience there was amixed reaction. His works were technically too difficultfor Japanese orchestras of the time, written, as theywere, for ensembles in Boston and Paris with virtuososkills. In addition to that, the audience found his musicsomewhat too modern and alien, sometimes too difficultto understand. Ohzawa's abilities and aesthetics failedto find a place in the relatively immature Japanesemusical environment. Nevertheless Ohzawa wasobliged to live in Japan, as the gradually deterioratinginternational situation made travel to America andEurope impossible, and he made his home in the Kansaiarea (which includes Kobe, Osaka and Kyoto), wherepeople were more conservative and less open to newmusic than in Tokyo. Under such circumstances, he wasforced to make tremendous efforts to continue hisactivities as a composer.
Piano Concerto No. 3 was written betweenFebruary and May 1938 and first performed in Osaka on24th June by the Takarazuka Symphony Orchestra,under Ohzawa, with the pianist Maxim Shapiro, a pupilof Medtner then living in Japan. The work, while usinga radical vocabulary, seeks to find some ties with theJapanese audience by adopting popular jazz elements inthe middle movement and making the most of lateromantic virtuosity in the solo part of the outer. Thework had the fashionable title Kamikaze (the wind ofGod), the name of a civil aeroplane well known in thosedays and to which Ohzawa dedicated the concerto. Thename of the aircraft had no connection with the wartimeuse of the name, but represented an important featin Japanese aeronautical engineering.
The first movement opens with a Larghettomaestoso introduction. The three-note motif (A flat - Eflat - F) presented by trombone and strings in theopening is, as it were, the \motto of the engine", whichpropels the Kamikaze Concerto forward. The motto isfollowed by the solo piano, sometimes slow andsometimes fast, until a scherzo-like marching motif,which is closely related to the motto, in terms ofintervals, on trumpet and trombone joins it. Theinterwoven texture of the motto and the marching motifstarts the engine and the plane takes off into the Allegroassai main part of the movement, written in free sonataform, where trumpet and trombone introduce anotherscherzo-like marching motif in 6/8. This reaches ascale-like descending figure on the horn (E flat - A flat),suggesting clouds or mist descending from on high.
Over these two motifs forming the first theme the pianostarts a vigorous perpetuum mobile. Now the plane is inthe air and a brilliant ascending figure from the soloistpropels it through clouds, until a high-spirited,bouncing motif is played by the whole orchestra and theplane is flying high in the sky. This 'flying motif' is theequivalent of the second theme, including the samepattern (E flat - B flat - C) as the motto of the engine. Inthe development all the materials are treatedelaborately. The piano makes acrobatic use of thesemotifs, with trills, tremolos, glissandos and hints ofProkofiev, and the plane continues its powerful flight.
The recapitulation is first introduced by the secondtheme, after a flowing cadenza by the piano, and isfollowed by the first theme. Then, with the shrill soundof the piccolo, the plane flies far off and passes out ofsight.
The second movement, Andante cantabile, is intripartite form. It is music of a night flight or nocturnaljazz. In the first section, the blues-like mellifluousintroduction leads to a nostalgic theme from the piano.
The middle section is a brisk dance, punctuated bysyncopation and staccato, and is filled with jazzyfeelings. In the final section, the solo part of the openingis decorated with many arpeggios. The motifs in thismovement are all related to the 'blue notes' and thepentatonic scales of Japanese folk-music.
The third movement, Allegro moderato - Allegrovivace, consists of an introduction, rondo and coda. Thethree-note motto, which ruled over the first movement,is also actively used in this movement from thebeginning of the introduction. It first appears in the thirdbar at the trumpet's sforzando, and a new march-likemotif is presented by horn, then oboe and clarinet. Themotto and the motif, which are to be interrelated lateron, form the framework of the movement. After theintroduction comes th