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Hashimoto: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 3, Three Wasan / Fukushima, Yuasa, Tokyo Geidai Philharmonia

Hashimoto / Tokyo Geidai Philharmonia / Yuasa
Release Date: 07/31/2012 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572869   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Kunihiko Hashimoto
Conductor:  Takuo Yuasa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tokyo Geidai Philharmonia
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HASHIMOTO Symphony No. 2. Three Wasan. 1 Scherzo con sentimento Takuo Yuasa, cond; 1 Akiya Fukushima (bar); Tokyo Geidai Philharmonia NAXOS 8.572869 (65: 22)

Qunihiko Hashimoto’s Symphony No. 2 shows not a trace of the composer’s three-year study of modern music in prewar Europe with Schoenberg pupil Egon Wellesz, or of his association with Read more microtonalist Alois Hába or serialist Ernst Krenek. It is instead, like his First Symphony, an essay in 19th-century Romanticism, minus the obviously Japanese themes used in the earlier work. The first symphony, written in 1940 to the nationalist expectations of a militant Japanese government, was perforce conservative and populist. In the second, commissioned to celebrate the adoption of Japan’s postwar democratic constitution, Hashimoto might have been expected to return to some of his progressive methods of the 1920s and 30s. Many listeners will count as a virtue the fact that he did not. Conventionally lyrical, it is certainly a pleasant, if unchallenging, listening experience.

The symphony, composed in less than two weeks in March of 1947, is cast in two movements. The form is not as unconventional as it would seem, as the first is an extended sontata-allegro, and is followed by a shorter movement consisting of a theme and nine variations, in which the seventh variation acts as the symphony’s scherzo and the last two serve as a finale. More critical listeners will note some clumsy transitions, and melodic development in the opening movement that depends too much on repeated figures. But generally it is well built, if not particularly original. Hashimoto’s primary innovations are the form and the cyclic use of thematic material. The work’s weakness is the lack of a distinctive compositional voice. Most of this—the decidedly American march within the final “peace bells” variation a notable exception—could have been written 50 years earlier by any skilled composer who had studied the works of Robert Schumann and César Franck. Certainly there is very little here that strikes one as either Japanese or 20th century.

On the other hand, the Three Wasan (1948), or Buddhist chant-hymns, are unquestionably Japanese in tone. Here, in the last year of his life—he died of stomach cancer in 1949 aged 45—Hashimoto succeeds in combining Western and Japanese aesthetics into a comfortable unity, producing a work of subtlety and emotional depth. Commissioned for a concert of Japanese sacred music by the Japan Religious Music Society, these are settings of verses from the Jodo Wasan of Shinran (1173–1263) describing three visions of heaven. The simple melodies suggest liturgical chanting. The orchestral settings are unabashedly late-Romantic, conjuring up Mahler at times, and Kodaly at others, though the latter may be attributable to rhythmic similarities in the Japanese and Hungarian languages. It is an intriguing approach to these ancient hymns that harks back to Hashimoto’s late-1920s experiments with joruri set in Western song forms.

The Scherzo con sentimento (1927, orch 1928) comes from Hashimoto’s student days at the Tokyo Music School, where he later taught. The school had no composition faculty, so the young violin and conducting major had to look to himself and occasional lessons with composer Kiyoshi Nobutoki to develop his writing skills. The understated scherzo, broadly neoclassical in character, originated as the second movement of a dance suite for strings. It is melodically Japanese (that is, pentatonic, though not all traditional Japanese music is pentatonic) and the writing for harp brings to mind the koto . The charming and evocative work is a remarkable achievement for a young autodidact composer, heralding an individuality of style that was unfortunately not evident in the symphony of 20 years later.

As has been the case in many of the Naxos of Japan releases, Takuo Yuasa proves a keen advocate for the music of his homeland. The Tokyo Geidai Philharmonia, an ensemble of graduates and faculty from the Tokyo University of Arts—Hashimoto’s school since renamed—plays with great skill and conviction. Baritone Akiya Fukushima, a professor of vocal music at the same school, sings the Three Wasan with moving restraint, the occasional strain in the voice only mildly troubling. Made in the university’s Sogakudo Concert Hall, one of Japan’s many superb symphonic venues designed by Nagata Acoustics, the recording is outstanding.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 2 in F major by Kunihiko Hashimoto
Conductor:  Takuo Yuasa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tokyo Geidai Philharmonia
Three Wasan by Kunihiko Hashimoto
Conductor:  Takuo Yuasa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tokyo Geidai Philharmonia
scherzo con sentimento by Kunihiko Hashimoto
Conductor:  Takuo Yuasa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tokyo Geidai Philharmonia

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