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Kaleidoscope: Beethoven Transcriptions

Mari Kodama (piano) (Pentatone)

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Kaleidoscope – Beethoven Transcriptions
Beethoven : Chamber works – transcribed for piano by Saint-Saëns, Balakirev, Musorgsky; Mozart (Arr. Beethoven): Clarinet Quintet in A major, KV 581 – Excerpts
Mari Kodama (piano)
Pentatone PTC 5186 841   56:02 mins


Liszt’s piano arrangements once brought Beethoven’s symphonies into homes when orchestral performances were rare. Now Mari Kodama presents equivalents for the string quartets. These transcriptions by Saint-Saëns, Balakirev and Musorgsky have, she says, given her a new understanding of these works. She justifies this selection of individual movements – no opening movements or finales – as being ‘an effective dramaturgy’ culminating in  on a theme from Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet. The real justification, though, lies in her beautifully-judged pianism.

The Saint-Saëns Allegretto (from Op. 59 No. 1) comes over with a light and velvet touch and not a trace of mannerism. I miss the yearning quality of the turn of the theme in the following Adagio (Op. 18 No. 6), but that effect is something which only strings can achieve. Likewise I miss the inner voice of the viola in Balakirev’s rendering of the Razumovsky No. 2’s Allegretto, but that movement depends for its effect on an exploitation of string colour which no hammered instrument could replicate. Similarly, the piano can’t reach the innermost heart of the Op. 130 Cavatina in the way a string quartet can.

Most successful are Musorgsky’s deft arrangements of movements from the F major Quartet, Op. 135: the Vivace feels entirely natural on a piano, and the Lento assai exudes a grave beauty, with occasional hints of the ghost of the original work. Beethoven’s little variations on Mozart’s theme reflect the composer at his most exuberant and inventive.


Michael Church