Natsuki Fukasawa

By Review by Colin Roshak

In a season filled with great symphonic masterpieces and beloved broadway masterpieces, one might easily overlook a dimly lit, Friday evening piano recital. This past week, tucked away in the UAA fine arts building, dark and weary after a long academic week, the modest audience was treated to a revelatory performance by pianist Natsuki Fukasawa.

The concert began with Claire de Lune — but Fukasawa opted for the Fauré setting, rather than the more ubiquitous by Debussy. Fauré balances the late Romantic French aesthetics with a more traditional use of rhythm and harmony, but the moonlit setting retains it’s mysticism and poignancy. Fukasawa’s voice was immediately clear. She committed to simple and elegant musical ideas, and avoided excessive sentimentality, and allowed the music to flow uninhibited.

The heart of the program was Sunny Knable’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji. The piece is a series of short musical vignettes, each accompanied by a different woodblock prints of Mount Fuji, first of which is Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa, which Fukasawa called, “the Mona Lisa of Japan.” The piece is programmatic in nature and as the different viewpoints shift through the slide show, certain themes return, develop and thread through the whole piece to give it a sense of continuity. Written in two parts, each with 18 different views of Fuji, the vignettes are played without pause, often shifting dramatically in tone from one slide to the next.

In some of the pieces, Fuji is monolithic — an imposing force taking up the entire frame. In others, the mountain is barely visible in the distance. The genius of the piece is the singularity of subject. Each of the 36 short movements are strung together by a common harmonic language and by the shared trait of Fuji. This shared subject allows for a sense of immense scale and provides a unique perspective from every movement. Fukasawa navigated these changing moods and perspectives with ease and commitment. She would enjoy a spritely, whimsical character one moment, only to jolt us back to life with a tempestuous flurry of notes.

The second half of the program breezed by. Chopin’s op. 60 Barcarolle revealed Fukasawa’s command of complex polyrhythms, Miguel del Aguila’s Invisibles demonstrated her relentless musical drive, and Liszt’s Apres une lecture du Dante allowed for a final virtuosic display that spurred immediate calls for an encore from the audience.

Recitals, piano recitals in particular, often follow a particular cookie cutter mold. Fukasawa’s performance fit no such mold. Late Beethoven sonatas and Bach fugues were traded in for a delicious cocktail of familiar and foreign that, even after two full hours, left the audience immediately wanting more.

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