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FRIENDS OF MUSIC: KOTARO FUKUMA (article first published : 2006-10-1)

A young Japanese master pianist was given a standing ovation at the end of a most impressive recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

Kotaro Fukuma was born in Tokyo 24 years ago, studied music in Paris and has already performed widely in Europe and America. He is a slim, spare figure with a self-effacing manner (“Thank you for coming to my concert, have a good evening”, he told the audience). But at the keyboard he is an entirely different person. He plays with power, confidence and insight, and he has a commanding technique.

His programme was taxing, unusual and totally enjoyable. He opened with three sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), prompting me to wonder, not for the first time, why Scarlatti does not feature more prominently in the concert hall today. His 550 one-movement sonatas are an entire musical world, covering every kind of technique and emotion but I have not heard an entire recital devoted to his music since Ralph Kirkpatrick, the greatest modern authority on Scarlatti, played in South Africa about 45 years ago.

The three sonatas chosen by Kotaro Fukuma, K.491. K.466 and K.24, are all good examples of the master’s keyboard style - rapid scales, trills and ornaments, quick crossing of hands, lyrical melodies - and the performance was bold and convincing.

Chopin’s Barcarolle Op 60 provided a romantic contrast, with its water-borne lilt and rich harmonies.

A novelty was a composition by a Japanese composer, Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996), written in the western idiom. This was a far cry from the noisy banging of so much modern piano music. It was delicate, rather whimsical, and to me it suggested something of the Japanese love of gardens.

The first two of Schumann’s Noveletten Op 21, brought forth more exceptional playing. These outstanding pieces are rather neglected, possibly because they are very difficult without much overt virtuoso display. Kotaro Fukuma again showed a keen insight into the complexities of the music, especially in the lovely lyrical passages.

Finally, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, a lengthy and rather diffuse work, was given a performance of sustained excitement and enjoyment. The huge resonance of the final “picture”, The Great Gate of Kiev, brought this splendid recital to a stirring conclusion. - Michael Green




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