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New Paths (Mari Kodama)

Mari Kodama (piano) (Pentatone)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

New Paths
Brahms: Piano Sonata No. 1; Variations on a Theme by Schumann, Op. 9; Theme and Variations in D minor; R Schumann: ‘Widmung’ (arr. C Schumann)
Mari Kodama (piano)
Pentatone PTC 5186 976 (CD/SACD)   60:45 mins


It is 1853, and the 20-year-old Hamburg-born pianist-composer, Brahms, arrives in Düsseldorf and crosses paths with Robert and Clara Schumann. It’s a meeting that will change his life forever. Robert lauds his talents in a published essay ‘New Paths’ – hence this album’s title – and Clara becomes the object of Brahms’s affection.

Mari Kodama has long been fascinated by the love, friendship and music of this creative trio, and explores it here from Brahms’s point of view, opening with an energetic account of the Piano Sonata No. 1, which he played for the Schumanns in those early meetings. Robert wrote that the younger composer’s playing made his sonatas sound like ‘veiled symphonies’; Kodama captures that sense of scale in a performance that’s both fiery and thoughtful.

Just a year later, a few months after Robert had ended up in an asylum after a suicide attempt, Brahms composed Variations on a Theme by Schumann. It’s a work shot through with melancholy, beautifully handled here by Kodama who’s even more in her stride than in the Sonata, and she dances through the variations’ alternating moods without ever losing a sense of balance and architecture.

Variations would become one of Brahms’s own trademarks, as would his love and deep understanding of historical musical forms. The second movement Andante of the 1860 String Sextet is a fine example of both, given here a magisterial performance. After its D minor starkness, the heartfelt lyricism of Clara’s transcription of ‘Widmung’ from Robert’s song-cycle Myrthen, a wedding anniversary gift, is a fitting conclusion.


Rebecca Franks