Mari Kodama

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Op. 101 & Op. 106 "Hammerklavier"

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The cycle of Beethoven sonata recordings by the Japanese-born, European-raised pianist Mari Kodama has inspired plenty of divergent reactions, and this ultimate release in the set seems likely to continue the pattern. Kodama was a student of Alfred Brendel, and she extends his fundamentally analytic approach in ways that can be extremely startling when applied to a work like the Piano Sonata No. 29 in B flat major, Op. 106 ("Hammerklavier"). Consider her cool approach to the generally violent opening movement, where she steers away from piano-shaking gestures in favor of clearly laying out the drastically innovative half-step and third relationships that underlie the entire sonata. There is no question of a "feminine" approach; Kodama can deliver violent power where she deems it necessary, as in the beginning of the second movement of the Piano Sonata No. 28 in A major, Op. 101. There she achieves a sharp demarcation between the meditatively melodic first movement and the more public march that follows. In the Piano Sonata No. 29, she tends to pair the first two movements, with the brief scherzo seeming to trail off from the opening movement, and the last two movements, with the bluesy Adagio sostenuto slow movement taken rather quickly and, despite its heavenly length, given the quality of prelude to the giant final fugue. Kodama's technical achievement in this treacherous fugue is impressive. But her interpretive daring is the greater achievement. The Op. 101 sonata has many lovely moments, but few indeed are the pianists who have rethought Op. 106 from the ground up and gotten away with it. Paired with perfect intimate engineering from the Dutch audiophile label PentaTone, this is an extraordinary Beethoven performance.

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