Mihoko Fujimura is probably today’s most successful Japanese singer in activity in Europe. She has studied in Munich and, thanks to the Bayreuth Festival, has earned a name as Wagnerian mezzo. I have seen her there as Fricka – it is a warm yet bright voice that relies more on projection than on sheer size with an interesting fruity tonal quality. She has recently developed a career as a Lieder singer and is releasing her second CD in this repertoire.
For this CD and this evening’s concert, she has a brilliant accompanist in Wolfram Rieger. He seemed a different pianist for each composer – nimble and bright-toned for Schubert, orchestral and coloristic for Mahler, deep-toned, evocative for Hugo Wolf and very descriptive, with a good ear for effects in Richard Strauss.
I wonder if Schubert is a good idea for Ms. Fujimura. Although her German is very good, she is not the kind of singer who illuminates the meaning of words but rather one of those who draws from large vocal paintbrushes. To make things more difficult, she chose some pieces that ideally require a lighter voice. The program opened with Am See, in which she couldn’t help sounding a bit heavy. It is curious that she tackled the melisma in the end of the song (gar viele) more gracefully than most singers. Her rhythmic precision and flowing quality in Auf dem Wasse zu singer too was most praiseworthy and she could build the right atmosphere in Der Gondelfahrer, but Auf dem See lacked contrast and any development and Der Fluß tested her legato and did not sound particularly elegiac.
Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder showed her, on the other hand, on the top of her game. First of all, her velvety, deep tonal quality are very appropriate to Mahler’s writing. But more than that: she lived through every note in these cycle in a very unusual way. Most singers tend to tackle these songs with some kind of retrospection and depressive melancholia. Not Fujimura, who sang them as if in the very peak of her morning, the despair palpable, the pain immediate, the attempt to find some solace secondary to a strong indignation. Some could find it a bit operatic, but it does fit her voice and comes very naturally to her.
I am not sure if Hugo Wolf is the best composer for her, more or less for the same reasons Schubert is not either. Ms Fujimura is not a diseuse and, although she can scale down her “Wagnerian” projection, the shifts of mood in the Mignon Lieder require a wider tonal palette. The final item in the program, a collection of famous Lieder by Richard Strauss should fit her more “operatic” manners, but Strauss is a composer who requires radiance from his singers, and Mihoko Fujimura’s mezzo is often too velvety to produce the right effect in its upper reaches. I have the impression that she was not in one of her best days either, around the passaggio her voice sounded a bit colourless in comparison to herself in the CD.