- Four Parodies, for orchestra
- Création, ballet
- Songs of Java, symphonic picture for orchestra
Japanese composer Shiro Fukai belongs to the first generation of Japanese composers to write music with Western ensembles primarily in mind. Like his near contemporary Akira Ifukube, Fukai also composed for films, perhaps most significantly Kenji Mizoguchi's The 47 Ronin. Fukai's early death at age 52 deprives us of witnessing how he might have adapted to the sweeping changes that occurred in Japanese concert and film music in the 1960s, but as it stands Fukai is a considerably more conventional composer than Ifukube. An acolyte of Meiro Sugawara, Fukai followed French models in his music very closely, not only evoking the influence of Impressionism but that of neo-Classicism as well. Naxos' Shiro Fukai: Songs of Java is an entry in its Japanese Classics series that limits itself to three large orchestral works that date from just before and during the Second World War. None of these pieces has appeared on recordings before. The "Quatre mouvements parodiques" dates from 1936 and purports to be a suite of parodies of four Western composers, namely Falla, Stravinsky, Ravel, and Roussel. This is an interesting idea that leads to some colorful and intriguing music, although with one major flaw: all four of Fukai's parodies sound more like Prokofiev than any of the composers named within this suite. The "Création Ballet" isn't anything like Milhaud's famous "La création du monde" as some might infer from the title. This work was written to celebrate the 2,600th year of Imperial Japanese rule in 1940, governance whose fortunes were soon to change very drastically! While it has some rhythmic dynamism, it is also shot through with a strain of travelogue music that really weighs it down; "Création Ballet" is the weakest of the three works here. "Songs of Java," the title work, dates from 1942; Fukai grafts Indonesian motives onto a structure similar to that of Ravel's "Boléro." It is pleasingly modal sounding and well orchestrated, but it subjects Javanese music to a gradual build of a kind completely alien to the tradition. Coming after Naxos' magnificent triumph in its disc of Mayuzumi with Takuo Yuasa and the New Zealand Symphony, Shiro Fukai: Songs of Java, featuring the Russian Philharmonic under Dmitry Yablonsky, is a real letdown. The "Quatre mouvements parodiques" are best served here -- on the rest of the disc the orchestra sounds tired and uninterested, and it misses out in punching up the intended "big" climax in "Songs of Java."