HISATO OHZAWA: Piano Concerto No. 2; Symphony No. 2 – Ekaterina Saranceva, piano/ Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/ Dimitri Yablonsky, conductor – Naxos 8.570177, 62:53 ****:

This composer is certainly new to me, though the notes seem to indicate that his heyday was once a large one during pre-WWII times. He came into contact with many of the most famous musical names of his day, was a noted conductor, and spent no little time here in the states, both before and after the war. His studies in Paris with Nadia Boulanger (is there a famous composer of the last century who did not study with her? What a legacy!) led her to make the comment “remember that you are Japanese”, a comment that the composer took to heart, although only in an esoteric manner and never as an extrovert force in his music. Listening to his work you will not be hit over the head with a deluge of pentatonic scales or anything else that smacks of exotic and stereotyped “Easternisms”.

I enjoyed this album tremendously. His orchestrations are redolent of Ravel, particularly in his concern for clarity of line, and everything here resounds forcefully. I really don’t want to typify him by trying to describe this music too much; suffice it to say that there are hints of jazz, Japan, Ravel, and Bartok in this music. Both the concerto and the symphony, written at about the same time, are cut from the same cloth. I think that the symphony affected me the most, especially the second movement (there are three) that is divided up into four sections that alternate “Aria” followed by “Toccata” and then repeating the sequence. This music is clever and very intimate in that its descriptiveness (not in a literal sense) is as though someone was telling a story.

The Russian Philharmonic definitely sounds better here than I have heard them in the past—no complaints at all, and conductor Yablonsky has the full measure of this music. This is quite a discovery, and the resurrection of a man who certainly deserves more than the obscurity he has been languishing in for 50 years. The sound is resonant and clear, with the right amount of warmth. Positively recommended!

— Steven Ritter