Mari Kodama’s Last Three Beethoven Sonatas

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

In contrast to the technically proficient yet musically faceless playing characterizing much of Mari Kodama’s previous Beethoven releases, the last three sonatas have inspired a higher level of involvement. By playing Op. 109’s first movement in a more literal, less rhapsodic fashion than usual, Kodama brings out the music’s harmonic logic and underlying classicism. She also clarifies the second movement’s frequently glossed-over differences between detached and sustained articulation, although her slightly square and prettified pianism hardly reveals the inner urgency implied by the composer’s Prestissimo marking. And while deeper, darker, more lovingly inflected third movements abound in the catalog, Kodama must be credited for her clean and pointed finger work throughout.

Because Kodama plays down the pronounced dynamic contrasts and lyrical intensity in Op. 110’s first two movements, her controlled note-to-note tension as the Adagio and the Fugue unfold comes as a welcome surprise, especially in how she weighs the dissonant clashes between the slowly repeating left-hand chords and sustained right-hand melody.

Op. 111’s first-movement introduction features superbly judged dynamics and dramatic pauses that unfortunately lead into a small-scaled, held-back Allegro con brio. However, the Arietta’s subtle linear interplay and tight tempo relationships compensate for Kodama’s relative detachment in the long chains of trills and in the final pages when compared alongside the lyrical breadth and heartfelt nuance we hear from pianists as diverse as Arrau, Kempff, Badura-Skoda, Novaes, and Ciccolini. PentaTone’s sound matches the earlier volumes’ excellence in both multi-channel and conventional stereo playback formats.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Op. 109: Annie Fischer (EMI); Op. 110: Richard Goode (Nonesuch); Op. 111: Maurizio Pollini (DG)

    Piano Sonata in E major Op. 109; Piano Sonata in A-flat major Op. 110; Piano Sonata in C minor Op. 111

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