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Sunday, September 25, 2005
Orchestral Works - Saburo Moroi
Sinfonietta in B Flat, Op. 24; Two Symphonic Movements, Op. 22; Symphony No. 3, Op. 25
Saburo Moroi
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Takuo Yuasa, conductor
Naxos 8.557162

Saburo Moroi (1903-1977) was the leading Japanese symphonist of the twentieth century composing within the traditions of German romanticism and neoclassicism. Heavily influenced by both Bruckner and Hindemith, Moroi’s works display a mastery of tonal harmonies and contrapuntal construction. This cd contains the world premiere recordings of three of Moroi’s symphonic works that were composed during the Second World War. As such, this disc will come as a revelation to many listeners since little is generally known in the West about 20th century Japanese music before Takemitsu and even less about Western-oriented Japanese music composed during the war years.

The Sinfonietta in B Flat is subtitled “For Children” and was written in a three-week period during 1943 and was premiered on radio only five days after Moroi completed its composition. A slight work in three movements, Moroi nevertheless exhibits real ingenuity as he weaves oddly shaped melodies through a variety of contrapuntal exercises.

The influence of Hindemith is seen in great evidence in Moroi’s Two Symphonic Movements of 1942. Although Moroi employs sonata form he veers towards monothematicism, an attribute that has been remarked upon by Japanese musicologists who say that it is reflective of the consensus nature of Japanese culture. The first movement, Andante grazioso, states the theme in a broad manner in both the strings and brass. It then alternates between scherzo-like and cantabile sections. Contrapuntal devices are broken off in midstream, giving the work a highly emotional and affective quality. The second movement, Allegro conspirito, is a brilliantly constructed fughetto which displays Moroi’s consummate mastery of Germanic counterpoint. The staccato interjections by the winds and brass are highly evocative of Hindemith.

Although Moroi eschewed program music, his Symphony No. 3, composed in 1944 when the War was going very badly for the Japanese and there was a mood of great depression in the country, has some programmatic connotations insofar as evoking the concept of the different ages of mankind. The first movement is subtitled “A Tranquil Overture” and is supposed to represent the birth of spirit and its growth. The second movement is subtitled “About Humor and Wit” and is understandably a scherzo. The final movement is called “Aspects of Death” and it can be understood as a metaphor for the ensuing death of the Japanese Empire. The lugubrious nature of the work prevented its premiere until 1950, and even then it was not well received in Japan whose citizens were striving to forget the tragic events of the previous decade. A subsequent performance was not heard in Japan until 1978. The neglect of this work in Japan, and its unfamiliarity abroad, is most unfortunate, because this work deserves to be ranked with the greatest tonal symphonic works of the 20th century.

Conductor Takuo Yuasa makes a highly spirited interpretation of his fellow countryman’s music. The National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland acquits itself very well in this recording, displaying an even tone, remarkable discipline, and the requisite abandonment of reserve in those portions of Moroi’s music that are remarkable emotional in nature.

Moroi’s symphonies definitely deserve wider recognition and performance. I was unfamiliar with this composer until I heard this recording, and was amazed that such a Western-oriented composer was active in wartime Japan when Japanese nationalism was official policy. Had this album been given to me as a blindfold test, I would have guessed Hindemith, Krenek during his more tonal phase, or even a lesser-known German or even Anglo-American composer of the first half of the 20th century. Naxos has done the listening public a great service in making the music of this regrettably little known composer available to a worldwide audience.


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