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Komei Abe: Symphony No. 1; Divertimento; Sinfonietta

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Symphonie n°1 - Divertimento pour saxophone alto & orchestre - Sinfonietta / Aleksey Volkov, saxophone alto - Orchestre Philharmonique Russe - Dimitri Yablonsky, direction

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Amazon.com: HASH(0x9335b1e0) out of 5 stars 1 review
HASH(0x8f44b198) out of 5 stars Energetic music, unsubtle but very enjoyable 22 Dec. 2013
By G.D. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
A key to artistic success, unless you are Mozart, Bach or Bartok, is, I suppose, to recognize your limitations. Japanese composer Komei Abe (1911-2006) seems to have recognized one such – Abe didn’t do subtlety, and the three works on the disc at hand have pretty much no trace of it. Yet the best works here are hugely enjoyable and quite interesting nonetheless. Stylistically Abe tried, at least to an extent, to distance himself from nationalistic trends – or at least to seek an international Japanese voice – and apparently expressed an admiration for Hindemith and German late romanticism, later also incorporating influences from Orff. I think I hear quite a bit of Roussel, Honegger and the motoric elements of Russian futurism as well. Yes, the style is very eclectic, and I suppose it is hard to really discern a very individual voice in the mix, but Abe certainly makes up for that (at least for the most part) with color, chugging ostinato, joie-de-vivre, activity and momentum.

The first symphony, from 1957, is cast in three movements. The outer movements are full of bold, bright orchestral effects and motoric drive, framing a supple, lyrical Adagietto. And no, it is not particularly original, but it is immediately attractive and enjoyable, especially in the slightly banal finale, with its Soviet style orchestral colors and momentum. It gives up its goods pretty easily, however, and repeated listening does, for good or bad, not reveal anything that wasn’t immediately clear on the first attempt – as mentioned, Abe doesn’t seem to have been particularly concerned with subtlety.

The Divertimento for alto saxophone and orchestra – composed with piano in 1951 but orchestrated in 1960 – is a bit disappointing. This is light music through and through, and rather bland and anonymous – the unassuming middle movement being really the only part that is worth a listen. By contrast, the 1964 Sinfonietta is a riot. The essentially neo-classical opening movement is strident and powerful, and even the "slow" movement is marked by forward momentum. The final two movements present a continuous blast of motoric intensity – steampunk futurism in the somewhat Honegger-like (Pacific 231) but even more relentlessly pounding scherzo, and blazing locomotive-like drive in the finale (Abe himself talked about the “rhythmic ostinato by the steam locomotive”).

Overall this is a very enjoyable disc, even if the Divertimento is a bit disappointing, and even if the music is essentially (and probably deliberately) superficial – anyone who enjoys energetic ostinato relentlessness in music that doesn’t take itself too seriously will certainly love the Sinfonietta. The players of the Russian Philharmonic under Yablonsky seem to be having a good time as well, and the Naxos sound is good. Overall, a fun and easily recommendable, if not terribly memorable, release.
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