- Symphonic Overture, Op. 6
- Peaceful Dance of Two Dragons, for orchestra, Op. 8
- The Rhythm of Life, ballet music, Op. 25
- Sketches of the Desert, suite in oriental style for orchestra, Op. 10: Dancing Girl in the Orient
Akira Kurosawa's film Sanshiro Sugata (1943) was about a young man who leaves his country home to study Jujitsu in the city, but on his way manages to master Judo instead, and becomes a renowned master of the art. Japanese composer Isotaro Sugata was not a fictional character; he began life with a wealthy family in Yokohama, and once he discovered music as his vocation he went through a series of masters, trying to get a grip on Western scoring in order to create a unique blend of his own with traditional concepts. Sugata's journey brought him into contact with pedagogue Klaus Pringsheim, and by the mid-'30s, Sugata was making a name for himself. His reputation sidelined by the outbreak of war, Sugata fled to a small town in the center of Honshu for safe haven. Unlike Sanshiro Sugata, this city dweller never made it back out of the country; Isotaro Sugata remained there in obscurity, composing still, but unable to practice his craft professionally or to obtain performances, dying in 1952 at age 44. Sugata's music manuscripts were lost until the late '90s; the recordings on Naxos' Sugata: Peaceful Dance of Two Dragons are not only the first recordings of this music, but in the case of two of the four works are also practically first performances. "Dancing Girl in the Orient" (1941) and ballet "The Rhythm of Life" (1950) were not heard in public when minted new and had no prospect of it, owing either to war or Sugata's self-isolation. Conductor Kazuhiko Komatsu and the Kanagawa Philharmonic Orchestra have been advocating the work of Sugata through reviving his scores, and do so passionately here -- as the orchestra of Kanagawa Prefecture, it is the symphonic body closest to the port city of Yokohama, Sugata's birthplace. It's a terrible shame that Japan lost touch with Sugata, as judging from these works he was surely one of the most talented figures among composers of early Japanese orchestral music. The ballet music "The Rhythm of Life" is obviously the showstopper of the set, with its echoes of Stravinsky and warring trombones; however, "Peaceful Dance of Two Dragons" (1940) really does seem like a very successful merger between the technical resources of the West and the traditional music of Japan. The "Symphonic Overture" (1939) comes straight out of his study with Pringsheim and has a slightly neo-classic, Hindemithian flavor. "Dancing Girl in the Orient" (1941) draws from the example of Rimsky-Korsakov and sounds almost like Alfred Newman with a Japanese accent. Indeed, Sugata's music would have been an easy match for the Japanese film industry of the period, and it seems unconscionable that he would not at least try to find work there. It is as though Sanshiro Sugata had managed to learn Jujitsu, but not Judo, and had become a warrior, but not a legend.