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It was dedicated to the tragedy of the atomic bombing, and based on six of 'The Hiroshima Panels' (eventually fifteen) already completed in 1953; paintings by Iri (1901-1995) and Toshi Maruki (1912-2000) to which Ohki added a Prelude and a final Elegy.

The Marukis' paintings, rich in subtle shadings, corresponded to Ohki's inclination to 'cloudy' sonority and they completed his eight-movement symphonic fantasy, To the Hiroshima Panels. The work was later renamed Symphony No 5 Hiroshima and first performed by Masashi Ueda conducting the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra in November 1953.

But for its subdued, atmospheric, dance-like central section with celeste and winds and a 'break for percussion', the bouyant preliminary Japanese Rhapsody [listen -- track 1, 0:21-1:53] skips energetically along throughout much of its thirteen minutes. This proves a stark contrast to the symphony 'Prelude', a movement of prescient, eerie stillness.

Okhi includes neither a moment of detonation nor the immediate firestorm; instead he uses 'Ghosts' [listen -- track 3, 3:02-4:33] to convey the human impact; the charred living -- bodies torn and minds uncomprehending. The music is grim and visceral in its effect. The score makes frequent use of high strings, harmonics, distant, spectral brass, disembodied winds. Movement 7 -- 'Boys and Girls' is a sorrowful lament for youngsters gone for ever -- in a flash. 'Atomic Desert' takes listeners to an empty, desolate landscape.

Yet, for the concluding 12-minute 'Elegy' people have returned, graphically chastened -- living with the indelible legacy of that single A-bomb. Here, with hymn-like reassurance, the strings are back. Echoes of Hiroshima return. Anguish and cataclysmic outbursts of the new weaponry are fused into Ohki's memorable score. The symphony ends abruptly; an epoch removed from its whispered beginning [listen -- track 9, 10:34-11:34].

A blistering 2005 performance and mandatory listening for music-lovers who care about our 20th century past and perils of the future.

Copyright © 14 March 2007 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand


Ohki: Symphony No 5 'Hiroshima'

8.557839 DDD Stereo NEW RELEASE 52'05" 2006 IVY Corporation and Naxos Rights International Ltd

New Japan Philharmonic; Takuo Yuasa, conductor

Masao Ohki (1901-1971): Japanese Rhapsody (1938); Symphony No 5 'Hiroshima' (1953) (Prelude; Ghosts - It was a procession of ghosts; Fire - Next moment fire burst into flames; Water - People wandered around seeking water; Rainbow - All of a sudden black rain poured over them and then appeared a beautiful rainbow; Boys and Girls - Boys and Girls died without knowing any joy of human life and calling for their parents; Atomic Desert - Boundless desert with skulls; Elegy


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