MOROI: Sinfonietta in B flat, Op. 24 'For Children.' Two Symphonic Movements, Op. 22. Symphony No. 3, Op. 25.
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland/Takuo Yuasa, cond.
NAXOS 8.557162 (B) (DDD) TT: 65:15
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HASHIMOTO: Symphony No. 1 in D minor. "Heavenly Maiden and Fisherman" (symphonic suite).
Tokyo Metrpolitan Symphony Orch/Ryusuke Numajiri, cond.
NAXOS 8.555881 (B) (DDD) TT: 67:00
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To only three CDs of chamber music by Takemitsu – Japan’s foremost composer of the 20th century -- Naxos has been adding orchestral works by his elders and contemporaries. In June 2005 I reviewed a disc of Yasushi Akutagawa’s music (the only one, so far, rather than two as I’d surmised from the program book)(see REVIEW). Now we have two additional CDs, both from composers who survived WW2. The younger by one year (1904-1949) was Qunihiko Hashimoto, which couples a 20:38 Symphonic Suite from his 1933 ballet, Heavenly Maiden and Fisherman, and Symphony No. 1 in D, composed in 1940 to celebrate the (arbitrary) 2600th anniversary of Japan’s founding as an imperial nation, a work lasting 46:25. Both are finely played and recorded, although the symphony is too long by at least a third, especially the 16-minute opening movement “depicting the long history of the country” with a solemnity that degenerates into patriotic pomposity. If a brief scherzo tends to overwork a folk melody (pretty enough per se), the concluding “Theme with 8 Variations and Fugue” is compelling music although not in itself melodically memorable. The ballet suite, however, is altogether charming; we can never know what Hashimoto might have accomplished has he not been a victim of cancer at the age of 45.

Saburo Moroi (1903-77) on the other hand lived a full and productive life, although this disc from Dublin, with the Irish National Symphony Orchestra under Takuo Yuasa’s evidently inspiriting direction, contains three wartime works that reflect their respective years. Two Symphonic Movements from 1942 are marked “Andante grandioso” and “Allegro con spirito.” If the tide of war had not yet turned, there is not the expressive pomposity of Hashimoto’s celebratory symphony. A year later, Moroi wrote a tender Sinfonietta in B-flat, “For Children,” three movements that last just over a quarter of an hour. But the centerpiece here is the Third of five symphonies, completed just before his mobilization in 1944. A noble opening movement, albeit a tad grandiose in the second part (“Birth of Spirit and Growth”) after “A Tranquil Overture,” is followed by a brief scherzo entitled “About Humor and Wit” (the kind of wit Shostakovich manufactured on orders). The finale is called “Aspects of Death” and extraordinarily compelling in a Mahlerian way, although Moroi’s vocabulary is closer to Bruckner’s. Imagine if a you can a superimposition of one on the other with a climax that comes as close to tragedy as music by a composer otherwise gifted -- startlingly eloquent as he hymns the impact of a losing war in its opening and closing sections. I’ve listened at least four times and nothing has staled. Tim Handley, both the producer and engineer, has captured a formidable sonority in Dublin’s National Concert Hall, working obviously hand in glove with Yuasa and the orchestra. For that movement alone, especially recommended.

R.D. (September 2005)