OHGURI: Violin Concerto (1963). Fantasy on Osaka Folk Tunes (1955, rev. 1970). Legend for Orchestra - after the Tale of Ama-no-Iwayado (Orchestral Version, 1977). Rhapsody on Osaka Nursery Rhymes (1979).
Kazuhiro Takagi, violin; Osaka Philharmonic Orch/Tatsuya Shimono, cond.
NAXOS 8.555321 (B) (FFF) TT: 67:42

The comprehensive annotation by Morihide Katayama that accompanies this otherwise trivial release tells of Osaka’s “independence” from Tokyo—in lifestyle as well as linguistics, not to overlook musically indigenous instruments. Hiroshi Ohguri seems to have become their civic claim to creative expression during his lifetime (1918-1982); Katayama suggests his style was an amalgum of Bartók, Kodály and Khachaturian. Forget the first two, however, apart from their use of folk music in certain works. Ohguri was Japan’s Khachaturian. Add a side drum to the orchestra, insistently at times and really annoyingly after a while, and you have a 1963 violin concerto that is a rip-off of Khachaturian’s from the Soviet ‘40s—or, as the late Irving Kolodin once punned with lethal accuracy—“Khachatawdrian.” Kazuhiro Tagaki plays his fingers to the marrow sans avail. He deserves better showcasing, if one can extrapolate from this first recording by the concertmaster of Chicago’s (advanced student) Civic Orchestra in 2001-02, who moved from there to concertmaster currently of the Württemberg Philharmonic.

The other pieces make it difficult to separate “Osaka Folk Tunes” from “Osaka Nursery Rhymes” (although I confess to having tried only twice). I mean, it’s like eating chum advertised as crabmeat. Tatsuya Shimono leads the Osaka (ne Kansai) Philharmonic, which Takashi Asahina founded in 1947 and was still conducting when this recording was made in August 2000, before his death the next year at the age of 90-plus. It’s a good orchestra, in which Ohguri was principal horn from 1950 until 1966, and which Tony Faulkner has recorded vibrantly for producer Andrew Wilson in Osaka’s acoustically forthcoming Philharmonic Hall.

If only the music itself had been better. Almost every American orchestra has (or has had) a resident composer/arranger who also played an instrument: Frank Proto in Cincinnati comes to mind (if only because the rest of my mind has gone blank, a little scarily if truth be told). If Kitsch is your thing, try this with soy sauce but don’t waste money on good beer. Canned cola will suffice.

R.D. (July 2003)