Just 22 years old, pianist Mao Fujita has already claimed silver medal in the Tchaikovsky Competition and produced a discography of several noteworthy recordings. Filmed at Berlin’s Tanzsaal an der Panke, Fujita presented an hour-long recital as part of Deutsche Grammophon’s Musical Moments series. In spite of its brevity, the recital traversed a wide swath of pianistic terrain, not shying away from a number of lesser-known byways of the repertoire.

Mao Fujita
© Eiichi Ikeda

An early Mozart sonata (K281 in B flat major) opened with a first movement of such clarity and transparency that it fizzed with sparkling virtuosity. Fujita did much to bring out the amoroso marking of the central slow movement, a touching contrast to the sprightliness that preceded. Interludes of dramatic tension did little to detract from the pure joie de vivre of the finale.

Given how central Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto is to the repertoire, it’s something of curiosity that his considerable output for solo piano tends to get overlooked. Fujita offered two very fine selections beginning with the Romance in F minor. A Chopinesque wistfulness and melancholy was in due course countered by a march theme of distinctly Russian flavor. The Dumka, even more substantial, boasted a folksy charm as per its epithet “Scéne rustique russe”. An ambitious work, matters proceeded effectively as a mini-tone poem, closing in a sudden dramatic flourish.

In his day, Charles-Valentin Alkan was regarded as the pianistic equal to Chopin and Liszt, but history has been much less kind to the enigmatic Frenchman. Nonetheless, the last few decades have seen a resurgence in his stature amongst pianists, and it’s especially gratifying to see the younger generation like Fujita embrace him in their repertoire. Easily his most iconic work, Le festin d’Ésope (Aesop's Feast) is a staggering set of 25 variations that culminates the composer’s even more gargantuan Op.39 set of études in all the minor keys. 

A simple yet beguiling eight-bar theme underwent a myriad of transformations, often making extraordinary technical demands – endless streams of sixty-fourth notes, rapidly interlocking octaves, massive chordal progressions – which Fujita tackled with aplomb. Perhaps the most striking variation was that marked abbajante (“barking” – surely the only piece of music to employ such a directive!) wherein tone clusters were dispersed at irregular intervals, suggesting barking dogs amongst the various animals from the titular fables of Aesop. Even more impressive was the final variation, building to a jaw-dropping climax.

The pianist remained in France for the balance of the program with two works of Ravel, both inspired by dance rhythms yet hardly danceable. The Pavane pour une infante défunte was of radiant beauty, while La Valse served as a much more calamitous affair, a further summation of Fujita’s dazzling virtuosity. This is an artist from whom we can expect good things to come.

This performance was reviewed from the DG Stage video stream