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Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Nos. 11-13, 15, 22 & 27 / Kodama

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Nos. 11-13, 15, 22 & 27 / Kodama

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I specifically asked to review this release after receiving Mari Kodama’s previous album of Beethoven’s last three sonatas and giving it a warm welcome in 36:2. Prior to that, I’d not heard any of her earlier Beethoven releases but was sufficiently impressed by the last one to want to hear more of it. I freely acknowledge that not all my colleagues who have reviewed one or another entry in Kodama’s survey of the sonatas have been equally enthusiastic, but how dull would be if we all agreed?

Save for two sonatas, Nos. 28 and 29, the “Hammerklavier,” Kodama’s Beethoven sonata cycle is complete, and according to PentaTone’s official website, those two sonatas are scheduled for release in August, whereupon I’m sure the company will endear itself to everyone who has collected the individual discs by reissuing them in a boxed set. Here on two SACDs we have six sonatas in seemingly no particular order, either numerically or chronologically.

In general, I continue to like Kodama’s way with these works, but as suggested in my previous review, the pianist is not necessarily in touch with every sonata or every movement thereof equally. Who is? Technical mastery is never in question, but Kodama tends to be more responsive to the long line and the lyrical impulses in the music than she is to the high drama or moments of capricious quirkiness. Where, for example, Beethoven gives Kodama a menuetto instead of a scherzo and an easygoing rondo to play, as in the third and fourth movements of the B- flat Major Sonata, the pianist performs with limpid touch, fluent phrasing, and singing tone. But in a movement like the scherzo from the A-flat Major Sonata, I think she’s a bit too straight-laced, missing some of the humor of the off-beat accents.

On the other hand, Kodama hits the nail on the head in the all-but-name scherzo from the E-flat-Major Sonata. And Kodama delivers all the sonatas’ slow movements with graceful and eloquent expression.

Will Mari Kodama’s Beethoven cycle go down in history as one of the all-time greats? My guess would be probably not. But from what I’ve heard of it so far, I’d judge it to be very, very good, and I can’t imagine anyone who invests in these gorgeously recorded PentaTone SACDs being disappointed. Before snapping up this latest two-disc release, however, I’d counsel patience, for sooner or later, the complete cycle is bound to be made available as a boxed set. But whether you choose to buy now or later, Kodama’s Beethoven, with the minor reservations mentioned, is recommended.

- FANFARE: Jerry Dubins

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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 2
    • Release Date:
    • Label: Pentatone
    • UPC/Barcode: 827949039065
    • Item Number: PTC5186390