C1986. TAKASHI ASAHINA Cond. Chicago Orch.: Symphony #5 in B-flat (Bruckner). (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-1253, Live Performance, 16 May, 1996, Orchestra Hall. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Once anyone makes the discovery that Takashi Asahina occupies a significant place in the Bruckner tradition on disc, confusion is likely to set in - there is so much to keep track of....The recording dates range widely from 1976 to 2000. Regarded as Japan’s most revered conductor, Asahina’s prime years were after World War II, and despite a general Western indifference to Asian maestros, his reputation spread, and he was eventually invited to guest conduct some prestigious orchestras abroad, including the Chicago Symphony and Berlin Philharmonic.
But what we’re really here for is Asahina’s conducting, which is characterized, first and foremost, by its lyricism and naturalness. A second quality is how effective Asahina is with transitions, handling them so musically that one is reminded of Furtwängler, a master at seamless transitions. This is especially important in Bruckner, where many conductors emphasize abrupt contrasts too forcefully. When you put together Asahina’s lyrical impulse and his flexible beat, the result isn’t typical Brucknerian grandeur....But the overall impression, which will seem odd on first encounter, is that the conducting feels so traditionally German Romantic in the vein of Hermann Abendroth, for example, or Furtwängler himself, who had a profound influence on Asahina’s style.
This release is Vol. 5 in St. Laurent Studio’s new Asahina Edition, which is largely sourced from the collection of FANFARE’s Henry Fogel. Many Asahina recordings are out of print, hard to find, or released only on Japanese labels, which makes the advent of St. Laurent Studio’s series doubly valuable. I nominated Vol. 1, a Bruckner Ninth from 1991 with the Tokyo Symphony, for the Classical Hall of Fame (FANFARE 45:5)...demonstrat[ing] to the full why Asahina deserves to be counted among the great Brucknerians on disc."
- Huntley Dent, FANFARE
“Takashi Asahina was loved by music fans for his strong and dignified style of conducting. He specialized in the works of Beethoven, Brahms and Bruckner. He won the government’s Medal with Purple Ribbon in 1969, Person of Cultural Merit in 1989 and Order of Culture in 1994. He was also honored with the Japan Academy of Arts Award in 1976.
A Tokyo native, Asahina graduated from the Department of Law at Kyoto University and worked at railway company Hankyu Corp. for two years before launching his career as a conductor in 1936, despite having no formal education for the job. He used to boast to friends that he was probably the only conductor in the world who has operated a train. During wartime, Asahina held a series of performance tours in various parts of China controlled by Japanese forces. Immediately after returning to Japan in 1946, Asahina helped found the Kansai Philharmonic Orchestra, which became the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra in 1947, and served as its executive conductor and music director up to his death at age 93.
Asahina remained active throughout his life and was invited twice to perform with the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra in 1996. His energetic performances gained popularity especially among younger generations in his final years. He complained of ill health after performing at Nagoya on Oct. 24 and was hospitalized at a Kobe hospital. Subsequent performances were canceled. He died on the very night of the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra’s annual yearend performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, which he conducted more than 250 times during his career. On Sunday night, conductor Hiroshi Wakasugi took Asahina’s place for the orchestra’s performance.”
- THE JAPAN TIMES, 31 Dec., 2001