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Arthur S. Leonard
Leonard Link, August 2009

Another Naxos recently heard for the first time, and another composer discovery, is a disc by Dmitry Yablonsky and the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra in the label’s Japanese Music series, the first Symphony and two shorter pieces by Komei Abe (1911–2006). I’ll make no claims that this is really deep, philosophical music. Rather, it is pure entertainment, beautifully orchestrated with listener-friendly harmonies and catchy melodies. I think it would go over big on a Boston Pops concert program. The Japanese Music series has been full of discoveries—where have all these talented composers been hiding the past century?—and this is definitely one of them.

Penguin Guide, January 2009

Japanese composer Komei Abe’s music is firmly rooted in the Western tradition. This première recording of the short (18 minutes) three-movement First Symphony (1957) is full of invention and vitality, neo-classical in spirit, with a whirlwind finale which employs, as the composer put it, ‘rhythmic ostinato by the steam locomotive’. The Divertimento for Alto Saxophone was written in 1951 with piano accompaniment, and was orchestrated in 1960. It is an attractive work, again, neo-classical in spirit, and tuneful, with a quirkiness reminiscent of Prokofiev. The Sinfonietta dates from 1964 and is scored fro triple woodwind and a wide range of percussion instruments. It starts off in an arresting manner, with robust sections contrasting those of a more skittish nature, in a movement based on sonata form. The second movement uses traditional Japanese colourings to good effect, while Abe’s ‘steam locomotive’ returns both in the following Scherzo (sounding like an out-of-control version of Honegger’s Pacific 231) and in the ensuing lively finale which, like the second movement, employs Japanese colourings. Excellent performances and good sound.

Art Lange
Fanfare, May 2008

The three works on this disc are products of Abe’s post-war maturity, but sound like they could have been written 40 years earlier. The Symphony (1957) has an almost perverse charm; the first movement shifts unpredictably between chugging neo-Classical rhythms and slippery Straussian (Richard, that is) episodes, while the slow fantasy and lively finale are reminiscent of Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin. Likewise, the attractive and accessible Sinfonietta (1964) has a “Pictures at an Exhibition” flavor, along with passages of Abe’s favorite “locomotive” rhythms. As might be expected, there is no jazz influence audible in the Divertimento for alto saxophone (1951—orchestrated in 1960), and annotator Katayama hits the nail on the head when he references Richard Strauss’s Oboe Concerto—it often sounds like Strauss in Ravel’s clothing, if you can imagine that, and the uncomplicated melodic writing reflects Abe’s extensive work with popular theater and dance groups. Though Abe’s music may be rather anachronistic, it’s uniformly well crafted, confident in its gestures, and comfortable in its skin. Fans of early 20th-century Russian and German music should find this an enjoyable hour spent. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

Steve Hicken, March 2008

Komei Abe (1911–2006) is a member of a generation of Japanese composers who came of age with a musical background that was almost entirely Westernized. There is no hint of Japanese music (that I can hear) in this program of orchestral music Abe wrote in the 1950s and ’60s.

Abe’s music is very straight-forwardly tonal, melodic, and well-formed. It is also lighter than air, and even the more aggressive gestures in the Symphony are pretty friendly. The sharpest movement, with the most bite, is the Scherzo: Andante-Presto of the Sinfonieta, with its thrilling rhythmic accents and brassy outbursts.

Abe’s style is shown to good effect in the Divertimento for Saxophone and Orchestra. Aleksey Volkov gives a silky account of the sinuous solo line and the orchestral accompaniment is lean and supportive.

Good performances and warm sound.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2007

The disc's accompanying booklet informs us that Komei Abe realised as a teenager that it was already too late to start his studies to become a professional violinist, so he began taking lessons on the cello which was to became his career. Now we know for sure what we violinists had always suspected! Born in Hiroshima in 1911 that part of his career was to be short lived as composition seized his interest. It was not until after serving in the Second World War that he could settle down at the age of thirty-four to a dual life as conductor and composer. In the meantime he had fallen under the influence of many Western composers, as this disc would quite clearly show. The First Symphony from 1957 is a perfect example, the opening movement starting with a feel of British light music, though by the time we reach the finale there is more than a passing hint of Prokofiev in ballet mode. Maybe Abe never heard a note of music by Eric Coates, but I could well have believed that was the source of inspiration for the Alto Saxophone Divertimento. I offer that as a compliment and hope that saxophone players will get to know Abe's score which is as pleasant, tuneful and skillfully written as any I have heard for the instrument. A creamy opening Andante gives way to a charming Adagietto with a finale that displays solo agility. I just wish tempos in this performance had been upped by a couple of notches. Both scores are having a long overdue recording premiere. The most recent work comes with the 1964 Sinfonietta, and don't let the booklet put you off, for this is not contemporary music in any way we would recognise, but a tonal score in four movements that falls most pleasingly on the ear, and I would commend it strongly to the inquisitive. It is in the standard four movements of a symphony, the rhythms of the third movement having all the elements of Honegger's train journey, Pacific 231, a feel that carries through to the finale. I am sure the dedicated performances from the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, with Dmitry Yablonsky conducting, would have delighted the composer, though I now long to hear a top British light music outfit making the Divertimento sizzle, as it is the style of music in their lifeblood. The recording quality is excellent, Aleksey Volkov's saxophone ideally balanced with the orchestra.

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