Steve Schwartz wrote:
>* Japanese Rhapsody (1938)
>* Symphony No. 5 "Hiroshima" (1953)
>New Japan Philharmonic/Takuo Yuasa
>Naxos 8.557839 Total time: 52:05
>Summary for the Busy Executive: Postcards and peril.
Sorry for the snip. Here is another take on this music, which has a lot
more going for it than meets the eye.
The HIroshima Sympohony is a remarkable work when listened to on its
own terms and is particularly remarkable considering that it was written
in 1953 - before most western composers came to grips with the idea of
nuclear war. Indeed, any critique of the Bomb wasn't going to be popular
at the height of the Cold War. It took guts for Ohki to write it so
soon after the occupation, just as it took guts for Stokowski to premiere
it. Don't worry too much about the paintings Ohki used. Everyone has
images of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and many other horrors burned into their
memories. Ohki knew these things only too intimately. The pictures
provided a kind of distancing.
Listened to in musical terms, the symphony is surprisingly "modern",
especially considering that most of Ohki's adult years were lived under
a repressive regime where foreign influences were suspect.
It is carefully constructed in a series of "boxes within boxes". The
Prelude starts with unsettling calm, tense cello and bass pizzicatos
gradually adding a sense of time ticking away urgently. Ohki is too
subtle to "depict" the actual impact. Instead, the second part is a
meditation in the lowest registers of winds and strings, a solo trumpet
adding a sort of cry of anguished disbelief. He titles it Ghosts - it
was a procession of ghosts, referring to the images of survivors and
wounded walking silently and mindlessly through the flattened landscape.
Suddenly driving strings introduce the next section, where at last
percussion and brass surge powerfully. Ohki's mental picture was of
waves of fire, expressed by rapid chromatic runs and trills, tremolos
and glissandos. This is also the imagery of wind, and transformation
for in those moments, Japanese life was changed forever. Another darkly
meditative section develops the themes in Ghosts, before the strange and
disturbing fifth section, Rainbow. Ohki quotes a description of the
time, when "All of a sudden black rain poured over them and then appeared
a beautiful rainbow". A plaintive solo violin, then a solo clarinet evoke
the unworldly half light. Ohki isn't depicting the rainbow as such, but
perhaps the survivors inchoate response to it, which is far more complex.
The seventh section is Atomic desert: boundless desert with skulls.
Against a background of "flat-lining" strings, keening and wailing,
the disembodied sounds of flute, piccolo and clarinet rise tentatively.
It's a bizarrely abstract piece, strikingly modern, particularly when
considering how Ohki had been cut off from western mainstream music for
a good fifteen years. The final movement, Elegy, draws in themes from
the earlier sections, yet also develops them with deeper emphasis. As
Morihide Katayama writes in the booklet notes: "the conflict is unresolved,
and whether the terror is broken down or not depends on subsequent human
Being a socialist in Ohki's youth meant death and prison, so he had no
choice but to repress his views, not only before 1945 but in the years
that followed. Unfortunately, in the western media, non- westerners are
usually portrayed in the most superficial stereotypes. People just don't
have access to other societies. Musical life in places like China and
Japan was far more sophisticated than most people realise. East Asian
music needs to be approached on its own terms, and with understanding
of the historical context. That's why it's so important that Naxos is
exploring East Asian western style classical music.
For more information on this recording, please see:
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