Some unfamiliar piano music was played splendidly Sunday at the National Gallery of Art by Masa Kitagawa Fukui. Works by three 20th-century Japanese composers were displayed alongside pieces by Weber and Ravel, and to all Fukui brought an impressive blend of discipline and freedom.
Most striking was a 1961 sonata by Akio Yashito. With violent chords and insistently repeated short melodies from the outset, it is a work that commands attention. It flirts with atonality in a way that recalls not only Messiaen, under whom Yashito studied in Paris, but also the late Scriabin. Yet its style was eclectic and well within the romantic sensibility, and Fukui's was a very persuasive argument for more performances of the work.
Three preludes by Saburo Takata opened the program. The first, titled "The Sunlight Dances in the Wind," was the most interesting, with the right hand twinkling happy ditties over a playful bass line. Like the other two preludes, it was the kind of music that feels perfectly content to paint rainbows in a single key, often straying into the shadow of Falla and Debussy. It was pretty tame stuff for 1947, when the preludes were written, but lovely music nevertheless.
A 1958 sonata by Akira Miyoshi was also derivative but less lovely. It is difficult to tell on a first hearing if echoes of Barto'k were real or imagined, but they were not endearing. At the center of the concert were Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin" and Weber's Sonata No. 2 in A-flat Major, Op. 39. The Weber was distinguished by warm and expansive phrasing and impeccably clean trills.
The National Gallery's season ends next Sunday with another unusual concert, which will include bravura variations on a theme from Bellini's "I Puritani" by Liszt, Thalberg, Pixis, Herz, Czerny and Chopin, all played by the pianist Roman Rudnytsky.