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 – PentaTone

by | Dec 30, 2006 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

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 – PentaTone Multichannel SACD 5186 063, 72:02 ****:

For those who adhere to the three periods idea of Beethoven’s development, the three sonatas Op. 31 (1801/02) may well represent the second era of his musical evolution, since he himself wrote that he “wanted to tread a different path” than he had heretofore taken. Beethoven refurbished the classical form of the sonata and made structure subservient to individual impulse. The D Minor Sonata, for instance, abbreviates anything like the first movement’s sonata-allegro structure, the distinction between first and second theme having been virtually abandoned. A dialogue principle, the piano used to create dry or florid recitatives, complements the use of arpeggios and brilliant scale passages. The G Major Sonata plays off syncopated elements in such a way as to suggest irony, a conscious mocking of traditional procedures. The E-flat Sonata ups the rhythmical ante in the G Major and undermines the harmonic contexts. The finale is a tarantella in exuberant style, which takes the whole Op. 31 set into consideration in providing a bravura demonstration of art and technical prowess.

Recorded 26-29 April 2004 at the Doopsgezinde Kerk, Haarlem, the Netherlands, these three sonatas reveal Ms. Kodama – as part of her ongoing Beethoven project – as a virile, probing musician with an articulate, flowing technique. She has a fine trill in the second movement, Adagio grazioso, a mixture of aria and outdoor serenade. Beethoven seems to have borrowed from Haydn’s sonata-rondo hybrids in his symphonies and applied this structure to more personal expressions. The Rondo has Kodama playing and pausing, then rushing off into the vehement Presto which itself dissolves into stammering air. Very strong playing for the opening movement of the Tempest Sonata, with its rising theme and one-chord afterthought, the bass harmonies captured quite resonantly by balance engineer Jean-Marie Geijsen. In surround sound, the dynamic contrasts in the keyboard registration make for some edge-of-one’s-seat listening, the tremolandi simply pulsating with excitement. The big pause leads to gripping recapitulation, wonderfully anticipatory of the crash that will come in the Appassionata Sonata. The Adagio is a dialogue that anticipates Piano Concerto No. 4, the last movement a fluent, moto perpetuo, Aeolian Harp, although the drama well belongs to the C Minor Piano Concerto, with which I mark the beginning of Beethoven‚s second Period.

The Op. 31, No. 3 is a sonata that has a peculiar fascination for pianists, like Backhaus, Rubinstein, and Haskil. The E-flat Sonata mirrors the G Major Sonata in several respects, especially in its harmonic ambiguities. The four-note motif of the opening movement bodes for future incursions into this rhythmic figure in other works of some magnitude. Kodama takes the first theme quite briskly, succeeded by a series of broken chords, staccati, and a trill. A scherzando affect dominates the piece, with only the Menuetto in E-flat acting like a moment of tranquil reflection. The 2/4 Scherzo cannot decide if it wants to be a march in cut time. Kodama gives the last movement all the bravura pearls it requires, a refreshed look at Beethoven’s burgeoning middle period, rife with audacious harmony and dazzling invention. Very quiet, integrated, piano sound with no extraneous sound effects.

— Gary Lemco

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