Beethoven: 5 Piano Concertos - Kodama, Nagano

Beethoven: 5 Piano Concertos - Kodama, Nagano

King International  BCSA-0001/4 (4 discs)

Stereo Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Beethoven: 5 Piano Concertos*, Piano Concerto*, WoO. 4, Rondo*, WoO. 6, Eroica variations, Triple Concerto*/^

Mari Kodama, piano
Kolja Blacher^, violin
Johannes Moser^, cello
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin*
Kent Nagano*, conductor

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Reviews (1)

Review by Adrian Quanjer - December 3, 2019

In keeping with current political speak, this review could be marked as ‘fake’. And, indeed, it is, because It is not related to the above release of King International, but based upon the European (and possibly elsewhere) Berlin Classics RBCD release. To stay within my HRAudio brief, I cannot and will not give stars for sound. But for those interested in the musical content I may be able to shed some useful light on this set, to assist prospective buyers in making up their mind with a view ‘to Order or not to Order’.

My tale is about Beauty and the … In French it sounds so much nicer: ‘La belle et la bête’. No, not the TV series, but the two sides of the Great Genius, Ludwig van Beethoven. In my vision, it is paramount that interpreters do understand ‘all’ of Beethoven, before being able to faithfully convey heart and soul of (most of) his compositions, or better still: to emulate his complex character.

Interpretation of Beethoven’s piano solo works and concerti are often seen as a male’s job, for them having the stamina and the power to perform this ‘angry’ composer in all its glory. Few female pianists have recorded all 32 Sonatas, whilst only a hand full, like Alicia De Larrocha, Mitsuku Uchida and perhaps two or three lesser-knowns, have done a complete set of all five Piano Concerti. An unfortunate omission, as far as I’m concerned. Men do excel in portraying ‘La bête’ in all its shades and colours, but are they equally qualified to recreate the other side, ‘La belle’?

Some, less familiar with Beethoven’s life, may say: “What other side are you talking about?”. Well, Ludwig did have a soft, romantic side. His interest in the female gender is known. Ever heard of ‘Für Elise‘? A comment by Deutsche Welle (Germany’s International Broadcaster), which I share, reads as follows: “Composer Ludwig van Beethoven didn't pour all his passion into his music, as proven by the many loves in his life. The most important woman, however, may forever remain a mystery” And mystery girl, Elise, did not remain the only one. Even insofar as his growing hearing loss turned him into mistrust, impatience, becoming obstinate, I believe that it reflected more in his demeanour than that it necessarily influenced all parts of his compositions. In other words: An intriguing combination of ‘La belle’ and ‘La bête’.

Some years ago, when I came across Mari Kodama’s account of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, I became increasingly aware of her affinity with the composer’s character and how she was able to master ‘La belle’ with her lovely elegance, and ‘La bête’ with her phenomenal technique; a combination, so seldom and so pertinent embodied in one, single person. This added value is equally present in her rendition of the Piano Concerti and her contribution in the Triple Concerto. Taking the fourth as a pivotal example, I was immediately impressed by the way she charmed, then bullied the orchestra into submission and subsequent harmonious cooperation in the famous second movement. But she didn’t do it alone.

Throughout the set it becomes clear that we have here common souls at work; Mr. Kent Nagano and his wife Mrs. Mari Kodama, supported by the ‘Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester, Berlin’, of which Nagano has been Music Director from 2000 until 2006, and now holds the position of ‘Ehrendirigent’. It all adds up to a set worth having.

A point that has to be made, however, is that, with one exception, these recordings have all been available in the past. Nos 1-3 were recorded in 2006; the Triple Concerto, with Kolja Blacher (erstwhile leader of the Berlin Philharmonic), violin and Johannes Moser (currently star soloist with Pentatone), cello, in 2010, whereas 4 and 5 were done in 2013. But for the benefit of this ‘commemoration’ edition, a recent recording (Mai 2019) has been added, with Mari and Kent’s own orchestral adaptation of Beethoven’s youth Concerto WoO.4, as well as Rondo WoO. 6 and the ‘Eroica’ (piano) Variations Op. 36. The sound in the Berlin Classics release that I have is not bad at all, and that of the latest addition even remarkably good. One may assume that the King International release is better.

Normandy, France.

Copyright © 2019 Adrian Quanjer and