Dip Your Ears, No. 61 

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L.v. Beethoven, Piano Sonatas 16-18, Mari Kodama
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.

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Sonatas 8, 14, 4

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Sonatas 21, 23, 26
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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