Saturday 12 April 2014

Dai Fujikura's Ampere

Ampere - Dai Fujikura - Minabel Records
Dai Fujikura's second release on his Minabel label, Ampere, again showcases the composer's fascination with complex textures in a selection of works for orchestra and for solo instruments. The disc includes his concerto for piano and orchestra, Ampere, played by pianist Noriko Ogawa with the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Thierry Fischer, Fluid Calligraphy for solo violin played by Barbara Luneburg, Stream State for orchestra performed by the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra conducted by Pierre Boulez, Poyopoyo for solo horn performed by Nobuaki Fukukawa, Perla for bass recorder played by Inbar Solomon and My Butterflies for wind orchestra played by DePaul University Ensemble 20+ conducted by Michael Lewanski.

Fujikura's piano concerto, Ampere (2008) was written for soloist Noriko Ogawa. It is Fujikura's first piano concerto, and written for a fellow Japanese expatriot. For the work Fujikura talked of integrating the piano and orchestra so that they are 'one big piano', with the orchestra processing and reflecting back the material played by the soloist.

The work opens with an angry dialogue, as if the outburst from the orchestra are trying to interrupt the piano; In fact the work feels far more dramatic and more combative than the composer's own description. Gradually the orchestra allows the piano to develop and Fujikura's writing seems to incorporate elements of jazz. As ever with Fujikura, the textures of the writing are fascinating and it seems to be variety of texture which interests him rather than strictly melodic material. Time and again you listen to a passage and wonder quite what instruments he is using.

The piece has the feeling of a multi-movement work and in the middle section the tempo eases and the textures thin though the piano writing still has its jagged elements. Much of the writing is bravura, albeit not in a conventional fashion, and Ogawa is quite brilliant in her performance. The more virtuoso sections develop a positively orgiastic feel to them in a wonderful moment, before things calm down. The ending is quiet and intense rather than the big finish. For the finale the composer further extends the soundworld of the piece by concentrating on a few solo instruments in the orchestra and incorporating a glass harmonica and a toy piano whose sounding pieces are made of glass. The results are simply magical, and Ogawa, the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra and Thierry Fischer are on fine form throughout.

Fluid Calligraphy (2010) is an attempt to explore the idea of calligraphy using a solo violinist, with the phrasing and accents deliberately not following the arc of the melodic line. The violin writing is rather eerie, full of high notes, harmonics, slides and other effects. The playing from Barbara Luneburg is stupendous. The overall sound is quite edgy, and the work has an uneasy quality. Despite the scurryings of notes there is a certain austere quality of the piece.

The orchestral work Stream State (2005) was commissioned for the Lucerne Festival Academy, founder Pierre Boulez. Instead of using the orchestra conventionally, Fujikura re-organises them into three groups, each with their own personality with the central group producing high-pitched chords and the outer two groups swapping pizzicatos. This was recorded live in 2005 as part of the Lucerne Festival, with Pierre Boulez conducting the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra.

It is a work that, at first, seems to be wholly about texture with the sustain string textures interrupted by others full of pizzicato and fidgety scurrying. The whole has a magical effect, but underneath there is tension, excitement builds and you sense and underlying drama.

Poyopoyo is written for solo horn but at times the sound world Fujikura seems to be exploring is closer to the trombone. The work is muted and quiet, intriguing and discreet. All Fujikura's writing seems to explore the limits of the possible in his chosen instruments, here we don't have something virtuoso but instead quite the opposite. The work explores the limits of quiet intensity, gradually moving towards more extended playing techniques. And the playing from Nobuaki Fukukawa shows stunning control.

Perla (2003/2008) is for bass recorder, a work which explores a very modern side to the instrument.  Again we are using extended playing techniques, including over-blowing, which has the result of making the instrument sound anything but the traditional renaissance and baroque stand-by. Fujikura also works in fragments which sound South American, perhaps reflecting the recorder's links to South American folk instruments. Recorder player Inbar Solomon offers superb control and playing

My Butterflies is for wind orchestra, and was inspired by the sensations Dai Fujikura's wife felt during the first weeks of pregnancy. The work was co-commissioned by the DePaul University School of Music. Again Fujikura's writing intrigues and tantalises, as you struggle to work out quite what you are listening to. There is an intriguing mix of textures, with a lot of flutter tonguing. But there is a spaciousness to the writing, you sense that quite a few instruments are being used sparingly.

In all these pieces you sense Fujikura de-constructing his chosen instrument (or instruments) and pushing their techniques to the limit, recombining in new and striking ways. His writing have a very textural quality and I am unsurprised to read of the visual side to his inspiration. The piece here are demanding, both of performers and listeners. Performers on this disc are all stunning, giving performances which command attention from the listener. And it is an attention which is well rewarded.

Dai Fujikura - Ampere, concerto for piano and orchestra
Dai Fujikura - Fluid Calligraphy
Dai Fujikura - Stream State
Dai Fujikura -  Poyopoyo
Dai Fujikura - Perla
Dai Fujikura - My Butterflies

Noriko OGAWA (piano)
Barbara LÜNEBURG (violin)
Nobuaki FUKUKAWA (horn)
Inbar SOLOMON (bass recorder)
Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra, Thierry FISCHER
DePaul University Ensemble 20+, Michael LEWANSKI

Elsewhere on this blog:

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