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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Reflets dans l'eau
Two Arabesques [7:20]
Images, Book I [15:40]
Ondine [3:28]
La cathédrale engloutie [6:01]
Estampes [13:47]
Clair de lune [4:59]
Images, Book II [14:07]
L’Isle Joyeuse [6:02]
Kotaro Fukuma (piano)
rec. 13-15 March 2012, Sagamiko Kouryo Center (?), Japan

Kotaro Fukuma is a very impressive young pianist. His strengths include a glowing soft touch that matches Debussy’s sound-world well. This is noticeable from the first track onwards, most of all in “Soirée dans Genade”; a gift for the bell and gamelan sonorities of “Pagodes” and “Et la lune descend…”. He has a dazzling ability to handle staccato notes with such precision that they all tell separately without the slightest trace of blurring, as in “Mouvement”. This last trait was apparent on his excellent debut CD, too: that was a Schumann album recorded for Naxos. The two Arabesques which kick off the recital make excellent showcases for all of Fukuma’s gifts all at once.
The “Hommage à Rameau”, taken at a slow hazy pace, is pretty far removed from anything Rameau could recognize. “Clair de Lune”, on the other hand, is relaxed in pace but utterly fabulous. The only significant flaw is a willingness to stop and smell the roses which nearly spoils the momentum of “Reflets dans l’eau”, when, near the climax, Fukuma pulls back for a moment and nearly kills the energy. This is not a huge problem, certainly nothing on the level of somebody like Lang Lang.
Part of the appeal of this album must be the 1912 Steinway Model D used; it doesn’t sound a world apart from today’s pianos. That said, I wonder if it helps Fukuma manage such glittering staccato runs and if the fragile-seeming high notes contribute to the magic of “Pagodes”. This is a joint production with Denon, and the sound quality is very good, although on a couple of tracks Fukuma’s clicking fingernails (?) become legitimately irritating. This nearly sinks the dazzling playing in “Mouvement”. I googled the recording venue listed and found no results to tell me where it’s located.
Thus, this is another excellent step forward for a pianist who slipped under the radar with that wonderful Schumann album (2005). Born in 1982, Fukuma has also recorded a solo Takemitsu recital (Naxos, 2007) and Albéniz’ Iberia (Hortus, 2012). MusicWeb International has not yet reviewed any of those, an error I will have to address in coming months.
Brian Reinhart