Two and half seasons have passed since Toshiyuki Kamioka returned from Wuppertal to Tokyo as a new music director of New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra. At this moment, after experiencing Kamioka's interpretations of Mahler, Dvořák, or Beethoven's symphonies with the NJP, the audience verdict on this energetic conductor seems to be widely divided. Is Kamioka is too eccentric, handling music too subjectively? Or is doing just what the music demands, treating scores too honestly? Yet, every music lover in Tokyo knows one thing: Kamioka’s excessive care over the score is highly persuasive in the unfamiliar works he brings once or twice in a season to the NJP podium. Such was the case for this Friday evening's subscription concert.

Toshiyuki Kamioka © Antje Zei Loi
Toshiyuki Kamioka
© Antje Zei Loi

The French programme started with the Mozart's “Paris” Symphony K.297. In his usual way, Kamioka showed no special interest in “historically informed” style. There were relatively few NJP players used for this work, but many violins compared to the lower strings and winds. As a result, the brilliant tone of the higher strings dominated. The Andante second movement was played relatively quickly and with tense atmosphere, a classical style three-movement symphony turned out to be a huge, bright D major overture for the evening.

Claire-Marie Le Guay appeared as a soloist for Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major. From the opening, Kamioka made great efforts to create big glissandos, especially from the woodwinds, yet tried to avoid too much of a jazzy air. Le Guay's playing sounded deep and solid, not so sparkling. In the second movement, when the piano concentrated on accompanying the cor anglais, the piano's timbre was charming, but I wanted the winds to lead more. The boisterous third movement was well controlled with very polished sound. Le Guay was generous enough to play Oiseaux tristes from Ravel's Miroirs as an encore, its transparent high notes sounding almost like a forerunner to Messian. It might have been the most "French" moment for the night.

Since becoming music director here, Kamioka has a strong desire to introduce Tokyo music lovers to symphonic pieces not well known in Japan (or anywhere else in the world). Albéric Magnard's Fourth Symphony was this season's challenge to the NJP and its audience. Magnard was killed just after the beginning of the World War 1 by the invading German forces at his house in the Oise department of France. This tragic talent’s last statement to the symphonic repertoire (1913) has seldom been played in Japan. In Tokyo, I can find only one record of a performance by an adventurous amateur orchestra in 2014. Scored for a Wagnerian-sized orchestra, its four movements follow a cyclic thematic style, the music consisting of a sonata movement, Scherzo, slow variations and a vivid finale. If you follow this commentary, you may suspect the work of a boring, César Franck-like musical eloquence, but, not at all! Kamioka and NJP revealed to us that Magnard's Fourth really is a hidden masterpiece.

At the beginning of the first movement Modéré, Kamioka properly pin-pointed one of the structurally most important recurring themes, voiced clearly by the flutes. His approach toward the intricately constructed outer movements was coherent. He decided to delineate plenty of detail in both movements rather than underlining the complex construction of the whole work. Subsequently, what we heard was not a Beethovenian music drama but a grand late Romantic scroll of sound. The second movement reminded us of a Shostakovich or Weinberg Scherzo, featuring lots of joyful solos here. Four string principals played a grotesque village dance and the following solo oboe delicately sang a short phrase to calm the situation down for the slow movement. After the gorgeous slow movement, another complex sonata finale came. Interestingly, Kamioka seemed not to regard the strongly sung hymn before the coda, based on one of the recurring themes, as the climax of this work. The real musical pinnacle was the very quiet opening theme the orchestra sang again in the closing bars. It seemed that the audience could not believe this was the end of such a big musical statement. A long, embarrassed silence dominated Sumida Hall for nearly half a minute, before huge applause broke out. To everyone's surprise, Boieldieu's overture to La Dame blanche was performed as an encore, a lovely present for the audience who responded so earnestly to the symphony. 

*****