Mao Fujita’s Chopin: Capable Yet Generic

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 8

The young Japanese pianist Mao Fujita (he turns 22 in 2020) first came to my attention when he won first prize in the 2017 Clara Haskil Competition in Switzerland, and again, two years later, when he placed second in the 2019 International Tchaikovsky Competition. His Chopin recital for Naxos treads on familiar and over-recorded ground.

While Fujita shapes the A-flat Impromptu’s outer sections with a singing tone and some attractive nuances, he loses the thread of the long line in the central episode. His insistent hammering out of the left-hand dotted rhythm in the F-sharp Impromptu’s Trio kills the music’s noble impulse and prevents it from taking flight. Fortunately Fujita’s lyrical impulses unfold more organically in the G-flat Impromptu, as does his convincing rubato throughout the Fantasie-Impromptu. Although Fujita’s fingers easily get around the rarely heard Allegro de concerto’s awkward patterns, his loose rhythm, episodic phrasing, and limited dynamic scaling (why do so many pianists live within mezzo-piano and mezzo-forte parameters?) undermine the work’s clear-cut solo/tutti concept.

By and large, Fujita’s Scherzos fall short of the demonic and incisive edge distinguishing Yundi Li’s comparably youthful DG recordings. The C-sharp minor Scherzo’s octaves lack the accentuation and forward thrust with which Martha Argerich makes you gasp, while the cascading figurations in the Trio hardly shimmer. Fujita organizes the hard-to-sustain E major Scherzo into neat, foursquare packets that cannot remotely compete alongside Yundi Li’s imaginative colorations or the young Vladimir Ashkenazy’s amazing rhythmic spring and architectural force. In short, the G-flat Impromptu and Fantasie-Impromptu hint at genuine artistic potential beyond the generally capable yet generic pianism that dominates this release.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Scherzos: Yundi Li (DG); Ashkenazy (Decca); Rubinstein (RCA), Impromptus: Wild (Ivory Classics); Perahia (Sony)

  • Mao Fujita (piano)

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