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  PentaTone Classics -
  PTC 5186 063
  Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Nos. 16, 17 & 18 - Kodama
  Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 16 in G major Op. 31 No. 1, Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor Op. 31 No. 2 "Tempest", Piano Sonata No. 18 in E flat major Op. 31 No. 3 "The Hunt"

Mari Kodama (piano)
Track listing:
  Classical - Instrumental
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Reviews: 2

Site review by ramesh June 7, 2007
Performance:   Sonics:  
Mari Kodama is a relatively young Japanese pianist whom I have never heard before. I gather she's married to the conductor Nagano, which certainly helps one's contacts in the cutthroat world of classical music. This is the third SACD of Beethoven sonatas she has recorded for PentaTone. Reviews of the recording quality of previous releases have been virtually unanimous regarding the beautiful piano tone captured in these native DSD recordings.

If one regards the Beethovenian piano canon as a transition from the classical to romantic piano schools, with the increasing technical capacities of the instruments reflected in the nature of the compositions, this has to be observed in the particular technical and interpretative demands he makes of the performer. If pianists have an innate sense of vocal line in their playing, this helps immeasurably for Mozart. However, Beethoven's writing is replete with brusque to brutal sforzandi and other accents. Rhythmic instability and lurching phrases collide with lines of classical elegance and symmetry. Throughout all this, Beethoven deploys unexpected modulations which both stretch and subvert accepted harmonic conventions.

All of these devices are employed in the wonderful Op 31 sonatas, which range from the gruff and sly playfulness of the G major, what Beethoven himself suggested was the 'Shakespearean tragedy' and introversion of the 'Tempest', and the chaste extroversion of the E flat. Kodama's playing is extremely polished, in the league of Angela Hewitt, who is currently recording Beethoven SACDs for Hyperion. Kodama desn't bang the keyboard, her rapid runs are evenly voiced although sluggish compared to the freakish capacities of Martha Argerich, and Kodama's chords are beautifully delivered without individual notes being too weak or over prominent. However, her talents would have been better showcased in Bach, Mozart or Schubert. There is only a shadow of the manic, sardonic, gruff, Olympian and revolutionary Beethoven on this disc. Sforzandi, staccatos, and all other varieties of chordal attack are insufficiently distinguished. A brusque accent gracefully tapers into the rich acoustic, rather than standing stark before a brief, pregnant silence. The humour of the G major sonata is either absent or tepid. The D minor is rendered as sad, without the bitterness or desperation in the great interpretations by Gilels, Richter, Brendel and Schnabel. The concluding Presto con fuoco of the E flat is presto without the fuoco.

Rating this artistically is invidious. The playing on this disc is what one would expect to come from a highest echelon piano graduate from Juilliard, Curtis, or the Moscow Conservatory. If the criterion was inspirational Beethoven playing, this would be one star. However, it is worth more, since it is highly recommendable for anyone who doesn't listen frequently to Beethoven piano sonatas, and who doesn't have a library of past Beethoven performances. This is not meant as a backhand compliment, but as a simple statement of fact. There are no idiosyncrasies in Kodama's playing, no wilful tempi nor perverse interpretative decisions. Excellent audiophile material.

Review by jlaurson October 10, 2007 (6 of 7 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
There are great and renown pianists working on Beethoven cycles or else issuing individual sonatas: András Schiff is on his second volume for ECM (an Ionarts review is forthcoming, read the review of volume one here), Mitsuko Uchida has just issued the three late Beethoven sonatas (also to be reviewed shortly). Paul Lewis, for Harmonia Mundi, has started his, too, to great acclaim, ditto BIS’ continuing SACD cycle on period instruments with Ronald Bräutigam. These artists and their work naturally make a reasonably sized splash. It is fair to say that the same cannot be said for Mari Kodama. Who? Mari Kodama, who, for lack of information in the liner notes that give more space to which microphones were used in the recording than the artist herself, I know nothing about other than that she records for the audiophile Pentatone label in what is now her third volume of what seems a Beethoven sonata cycle-in-progress. I haven’t an idea what she did with the “Moonlight”, “Pathetique” or the op.7 Sonata in E-flat on PTC 5186 023 or, for that matter what with the “Waldstein”, “Appassionata” and “Les Adieux” on PTC 5186 024. But I know that after listening to sonatas 16 – 18 on the most recent issue, PTC 5186 063, I will probably want to go back and hear if her previous installments are nearly as impressive as this one.

She may not have a name that registers, nor a label that is able to plaster her (very pretty) face on billboards across the continents but her playing, coupled with the excellent, rich sound (I did not listen to this SACD in surround sound – but the balance is wonderfully captured in stereo) is simply stunning. Beautifully short-yet-round, ‘thumb-in-your-eye’ low notes in the Allegro vivace of no. 16 (op.31, no.1), fleet and pebbled runs, confident chords mark a performance that is – here as everywhere else – of one cloth, flexible and strong. The Adagio grazioso is a marvel for its trills that are fast and smooth in the right hand – and rumble pleasantly when the left hand takes them on. Most anyone else’s (Kempff, Kuerti for example) sound almost rusty if crisper. “Enjoyable”, “sheen”, and “round” are the most common words I found myself to have I scribbled down while listening, but while it is full of marvelous musical instances, it is the whole that impresses and has, so far, immediately impressed everyone I’ve played these discs for, whether they were listening to the truly outstanding no. 16 or the just-about-as exalted Tempest or no. 18. Mari Kodama (a little research finds out she is Kent Nagano’s wife) combines masculine power with female sensitivities here – and rather erring on the side of subtlety as she does, to great effect. The rub? Unless you are an SACD-player owning card-carrying audiophile, you might lack the rationalization to shell out more than 22 dollars for this hybrid disc. Still: Beethoven lovers probably ought to at least try to hear them for the interpretations and the playing alone. Immeasurably enjoyable.

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Works: 3  

Ludwig van Beethoven - Piano Sonata No. 16 in G major, Op. 31 No. 1
Ludwig van Beethoven - Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31 No. 2 "Tempest"
Ludwig van Beethoven - Piano Sonata No. 18 in E flat major, Op. 31 No. 3 "The Hunt"