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Art Lange
Fanfare, January 2007

Japanese composer Shiro Fukai (1907-59) was apparently better known in his native country for his nearly 200 film scores than his classical compositions, though he was thought of highly enough to be among those receiving a commission in celebration of the 2600th Year of the Emperor (not a single emperor, of course, but the anniversary of Imperial rule) in 1940. The resulting work, a ballet score entitled Creation, is included here. Illustrating several Japanese creation myths and concluding in the (then) present, the music does adapt at least one traditional mode from the agesĀ­old court music gagaku, though the primary impression it makes is not via styles indigenous to the island, but rather Ravel and early Stravinsky. Fukai's Francophilia is audible in the rest of this program as well; his Parodies are dedicated to Falla, Stravinsky, Ravel, and Roussel, respectively, and though not exactly mimicry, they touch on enough points of stylistic similarity to suit the title. Program annotator Morihide Katayama characterizes Fukai as a Modernist, but one that avoided the adopted artistic "savagery" of early Modernism (and the starkness of traditional Japanese folk and court music) in favor of a French-influenced manner of sweetness and light. This may account for Fukai's renaming one of the movements from an earlier version of the work, changing the dedication from Bartok to Roussel, apparently without altering a note of the music. (A movement dedicated to Malipiero was removed completely.) Though Katayama also cites Bolero as an influence on the Songs of Java's gradual crescendo, Fukai's colorful orchestration outdoes even Ravel, with chiming percussion reflecting Javanese gamelan, a brief but prominent part for saxophone, and even something approaching an insistent jazz riff in the brass. (In a curious editorial gaffe, Naxos labels both Creation and Songs of Java as "World Premiere Recordings," though Katayama's notes mention a recording of the latter being popular in wartime Japan.)

The recorded sound is good, and the performances do the job, although additional rehearsal time might have helped bring out a bit more of the music's color and flair. Fukai's music often has a familiar ring to it, but that actually enhances, and not distracts from, what is a pleasant divertissement.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, March 2006

Looking for something off-the-beaten-path, but definitely worth the detour, then try these Japanese selections. Composer Shiro Fukai (1907-1959) had a penchant for French music of the 1920-30s. The "Four Parodies for Orchestra" included here dates from 1936. It began life in 1933 as a suite consisting of five movements dedicated to Manuel de Falla, Igor Stravinsky, Gian-Francesco Malipiero, Maurice Ravel and Bela Bartok respectively. The composer then dropped the Malipiero and changed the honoree of the last to Albert Roussel. In its final form each of the remaining four sections certainly pays musical homage to its dedicatee, but the piece as a whole is a unique Fukai creation, which sounds a bit like the composer was applying for membership in "Les Six" (Can you name all of them?). "Creation" is an imaginative, whipped, green tea of a balletic brew flavored with extracts of Ravel and Stravinsky. It was designed to promote Japanese nationalism by commemorating the 2600th year of the Emperor. It's in three scenes dealing with such diverse subjects as Nipponese mythology, evolution and the chaotic state of international affairs circa 1940, when it was written. The symphonic picture "Songs of Java" dates from 1942 and is the most Asian sounding of the three works here. It begins with a Javanese folk melody that's repeated over and over in a succession of ever changing, brilliantly orchestrated passages that build to an overpowering crescendo in somewhat the same manner as Ravel's "Bolero." It then shifts melodic and rhythmic gears in forceful ostinato passages that gradually dissipate into a tintinnabular mist. Chances are the composer knew Kunihiko Hashimoto's first symphony dating from two years earlier, because it contains a very similar, equally effective, musical construct. The performances are excellent and the recordings, very good with the latter two being world premieres. If you like these pieces from "The Land of the Rising Sun," you might also want to investigate the symphonic works of Toshiro Mayuzumi and Saburo Moroi.

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