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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849) Autour des Ballades
Andante spianato et Grand Polonaise brillante in E flat, Op. 22 [14:04]
Fantaisie-impromptu in C-sharp minor, Op. 66 [4:56]
Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23 [9:36]
Waltz in A minor, Op. 34 No. 2 [6:04]
Ballade No. 2 in F, Op. 38 [7:47]
Ballade No. 3 in A flat, Op. 47 [7:23]
Nocturne No. 13 in C minor, Op. 48 No. 1 [6:05]
Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52 [11:28]
Nocturne No. 4 in F, Op. 15 No. 1 [4:07]
Etude No. 3 in E, Op. 10 No. 3 [4:23]
Kotaro Fukuma (piano)
rec. 2013, Cosmos Hall, Tokyo EDITIONS HORTUS 118 [75:53]
Every new Kotaro Fukuma album is better than the last. This is a very mature, accomplished Chopin album, in which the pianist skilfully blends the composer’s power and poetry. I don’t mean that as a generality or a platitude. Fukuma demonstrates a gift both for Chopin’s full emotional spectrum. Moments on this album call for the softest of touches, while others demand thundering virtuosity; this pianist can do both. He can even combine them. Listen to the way his tasteful pauses in Ballade No. 4 never become arch and never threaten the work’s irresistible momentum.
You want panache? The last ballade’s coda is played as dazzlingly, and flawlessly, as anybody since Sviatoslav Richter. This is one of my ten or twenty favourite works in all of classical music, and I get picky. Fukuma times the deceptive calm fake-ending perfectly, then gets through the knotty final moments with clarity and power. The cascading chords are rarely better-judged. His Fantaisie-Impromptu is a knockout, especially - again - the ending, where his virtuosity sails off the charts.
You want sensitivity? How about the Nocturne Op. 15 No. 1, the main theme of which is played very quickly but with such a delicate touch that it still feels ethereal. Try the album-opening Andante spianato, divine. Fukuma’s encore is the Etude Op. 10 No. 3, a piece he has worked on since it was his childhood favourite. He gets sentimental over it, in a very slow, emotive performance, but you’re allowed to be sentimental in an encore, right?
I don’t have much else to say. The pianist’s personal notes about the music are touching. The recorded sound is state-of-the-art. His keen fashion sense continues to add a tiny extra element of appeal to each album cover but the most important thing about a Chopin recital is, does it deliver the goods? Does it present the poetry, the sensitivity, but also the classical rigour, the technical innovation and the raw energy? In this case, the answer is a decisive yes. One of the best Chopin recitals in recent years.