Interesting stuff. As might be expected, Hisato Ohzawa's music is derivative, and as the notes to this recording indicate, the sources of inspiration are different for each work. Piano Concerto No. 3, subtitled "Kamikazi," celebrates a fast Japanese commercial plane that flew well before World War II. The music's chief influences are clearly Ravel and Prokofiev. Ravel is the guiding light behind the glittery keyboard runs in the first movement, as well as the jazz-inflected second movement, though the rather saccharine sax solo of this movement also recalls Gerswhin's Concerto in F and Rhapsody in Blue. Prokofiev lends steel and ice to some of the keyboard writing, and the mercurial-motoric last movement seems indebted to the last movement of Prokofiev's Fourth Concerto, whose coda similarly comes out of nowhere to conclude the piece--kind of inconclusively! If Bartok is there behind Ohzawa's conception--as the other astute reviewer on this page surmises--his influence has been smoothed out a bit: Ohzawa's keyboard writing is more fluid, his writing for the orchestra more streamlined than the granitic, often blocky sound Bartok favors.
Given all these influences, it's very interesting to turn to the symphony, which, though written around the same time and certainly by a fully mature composer, draws from another well. The CD cover postulates Roussel and early Myaskovsky as influences. To this I would add Janacek, especially in the writing for winds and brass--at least, I'd be surprised if Ohzawa didn't know Taras Bulba and the Sinfonietta. Overall, this work, celebrating the 2,600th anniversary of Japan, is more soberly dramatic, more overtly public, as befits the occasion. I'm not sure if there is a program behind it--certainly it is not a clear one if there is--but Ohzawa seems to want to convey the years of internal struggle Japan had known and its hard-won victory as a world power. Ohzawa lightens up only in the third movement, a graceful minuet that, again, seems to owe something to Prokofiev, this time to Prokofiev the witty neoclassicist.
If I seem to be dismissing Ohzawa's art as a mere patchwork of Western musical influences, that's not my object. I'm trying to describe its sound world in the only way I know how. It is certainly not without its individual touches and certainly not without some daring, given that many composers of the thirties, those without ties to the centers of musical modernism as Ohzawa was, wrote throwback pieces you wouldn't want to hear today. No throwbacks, no museum pieces on this disc.
As with any music by unknown composers, it's a bit hard to judge the quality of the performances here, but it appears that Yablonsky and his forces have the measure of this music. Nowhere do I hear a mere run-through or a place where more time to get to know the music seems in order. The playing by both orchestra and pianist are polished, and Yablonsky keeps things moving just as I would hope. Tempos seem well judged to provide maximum effect. I doubt that this music will get, or need, finer performances in future. Sound is fine, too, reflecting the excellent results Naxos engineers are getting in Russia these days. This one is definitely worth a try.