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Beethoven raised the bar for Classical music with his Fourth Sonata. Michelangeli acknowledged the new, grand scale of the work by including it alone, like the “Hammerkavier,” on a 1970s DG LP. Young Mari Kodama from Japan doesn’t match his hauteur or complete control, or Schnabel’s vision, or the young Barenboim’s spontaneous concentration in his first, complete sonata cycle on EMI (still highly recommended). Instead, she offers a softer, very beautiful tone and the absence of
preening melodrama: a warmer experience than the old men can provide, perhaps. I’ve read Kodama reviews that stress “feminine” qualities. I don’t think that does her justice. If you believe that Beethoven was essentially dramatizing his own personality in the sonatas, then there are any number of recordings that provide an aural picture of the great man strutting and fretting his hour on this formal stage before bursting its confines and striding off to harangue the audience. Hear Kodama’s Rondo from op. 7 for a subtle, alternative, subduing drama or posturing in favor of calm poetry.
That said, she sounds more engaged by both the “name” sonatas on this well-recorded disc, and in the Allegro di molto sections of the schizoid first movement of op. 13 she stirs up an appropriately early-Romantic storm without letting the big piano drown the music. All the fast music goes pretty well, with flexibility of tempo stopping just the right side of over-dramatization. The two famous slow movements are individual, too. The Adagio cantabile from op. 13 sounds tough, in keeping with the outer movements, instead of being a dreamy interlude (though I think she over-pedals the theme). The moonlit Adagio sostenuto has been subjected to countless indignities on disc. None from Kodama. She lets the even notes of the right-hand part rise to an unforced central peak of emotion with just a little tweak to the phrasing here and there. No movement is harder to make fresh than this chestnut. The Allegretto is then a model of dynamic restraint, while the more desperate searching of the Presto lets loose authentic, Romantic, Beethovenian drama without straying too far from the basic, propulsive tempo. Kodama (like Kempff, in his more Classical manner) rescues this music from self-parody, and the “Moonlight” is the best thing here: a real chase through a stormy night on the moor, Brontë style. An unusual coupling, but further evidence for the seriousness with which the current generation is re-appraising the greatest Western music we have.
Paul Ingram, FANFARE
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