SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 11 in B-flat; No. 12 in A-flat; No. 13, “Sonata quasi una fantasia”; No. 22 in F; No. 27; No. 15, “Pastorale” – Mari Kodama, p. – PentaTone (2 discs)

This next-to-last series release maintains the high standards set throughout.

Published on February 21, 2013

BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 11 in B-flat, Op. 22; No. 12 in A-flat, Op. 26; No. 13 in E-flat, Op. 27/1 “Sonata quasi una fantasia”; No. 22 in F, Op. 54; No. 27 in e, Op. 90; No. 15 in D, Op. 28 “Pastorale” – Mari Kodama, piano – PentaTone multichannel SACD PTC 5186 390 (2 discs), 1:48:28 (11/6/12) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

This is, by my count the penultimate release of Mari Kodama’s fine Beethoven series. As far as I can tell only three (including this one) have been reviewed by us, and there is only one to come. These recordings began as early as 2004 (this one from 2012) so the series is set to wrap over a ten-year period. For an artist this is a long time; while many take a while to let their ideas about the music develop it is also true that over this long a period their ideas about the earlier discs have probably changed as well, so we really don’t get a consistent viewpoint about the music. Nevertheless, her early albums that we reviewed were favorably received, and this one, coming at the tail end and the only two-disc set, stands up very well.

Kodama is a big player, pulling a lot of sound out of the instrument and making tonal opulence a main priority. In these works, mostly middle Beethoven and created at a time when the composer was in a mood to stretch the sonata form into nothingness, a lot of clarity and suppleness of line is called for as we cannot rely on structure alone to communicate the message, something that Haydn was so adept at (and which Beethoven mastered very early on), and now it is simply the ghost of Mozart, with all the expressivity and ventures into the area of “fantasy” that that entails. Kodama serves the first three sonatas up well as examples of a man seeking to find things beyond the creative excesses of their models, and allows Beethoven a lot of leeway in seeking this experimentation.

The second disc gives us the F-major, second cousin to its predecessor “Waldstein” Sonata and successor “Appassionata”—quite a legacy to live up to, and the sonata delivers little in terms of audience hooks to hang on to. But what it does have is a sense of stimulating the brain cells first and not worry so much about the emotions. Oh the latter are present, but we sit and marvel at Beethoven’s thought processes as he takes us on a preview of the stringencies found in the very last sonatas. Kodama plays this aspect up, and rightly so, as well as unifying the sometimes mysterious and esoteric world of the Opus 90 Sonata as well.

The “Pastorale” brings us back to earth a bit, indulging in the well-worn ecstasies of nascent Schubertian lyricism—though Beethoven didn’t know it at the time—and reveling in the rustic ruralized soundscapes of this solidly traditional sonata. Kodama is able to navigate these shifts of mood and compositional type easily to give us a fine reading. PentaTone’s sound is reliably roomy and full of presence. This will be an excellent series when all is said and done.

—Steven Ritter

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