On her 13th album at NativeDSD, pianist Mari Kodama presents New Paths. This album explores the young Johannes Brahms and his fascinating friendship with Clara and Robert Schumann. The album derives its title from Robert Schumann’s famous essay “Neue Bahnen”, in which he heralded the young Brahms as the most eminent musical voice of the future.
The program brings together Brahms’s first piano sonata, his Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, Op. 9, as well as his Theme And Variations, Op. 18B, made at Clara Schumann’s request. The final word is given to Clara’s arrangement of Robert’s song Widmung.
New Paths not only explores the unique bond of these three remarkable composers, but also shows the energetic self-confidence of the young Brahms, so different from his later melancholia. Kodama performs these works on a brand new Yamaha CFX Piano that almost sounds like a period instrument, coming much closer to Brahms’s sound ideal.
The album is available at NativeDSD in Stereo and 5 Channel Surround Sound DSD 256, DSD 128, DSD 64, DXD, FLAC 24/192 and FLAC 24/96 plus Stereo DSD 512. The DSD 512, DSD 256, DSD 128 and DXD editions of the album are exclusively available from NativeDSD Music.
Mari Kodama, Pianist
TracklistPlease note that the below previews are loaded as 44.1 kHz / 16 bit.
Total time: 01:00:31
Yamaha CFX#6540800 provided by Yamaha Music Europe
|Original Recording Format|
Erdo Groot (Polyhymnia International B.V.)
Erdo Groot (Polyhymnia International B.V.)
This album was recorded at Reitstadel in Neumarkt, Germany, in July 2022.
|Release Date||April 11, 2023|
With this latest recording, Mari Kodama confirms her talent and, in my view even more important, her unambiguous feeling for human compassion. With ‘New Paths’ she aims at sharing such feelings with her audience portraying a three-way friendship between Johannes Brahms and both Clara and Robert Schumann.
Much has been written on this subject and some of it has been speculated about as well, notably as regards Brahms’s feelings for Clara. In a personal note, Mari Kodama takes an intriguing view, describing her fascination with this relationship, the power, the strength, and the musical energy that has emanated from it. To tell her story, she has composed a program of considerable originality and musical interest.
It begins with Brahms’s first Piano Sonata (No.1 Op. 1); a sonata reflecting the burgeoning sentiments and vigor of a 20-year young composer. In her reading, Mari draws our attention to the hugely difficult score with ample intellectual intensity, phenomenal technique, and thoroughly passionate empathy. She makes abundantly clear why this sonata, expanding on patterns introduced by Ludwig van Beethoven in his Hammerklavier Sonata, met with Schumann’s admiration marking it as a new path forward.
Delving deeper into Mari’s uncovering of the essence of the triangular friendship I was downright carried away by her intuitional approach to the Variations on a Theme by Schumann Op. 9. She opens up a whole new world of make-believe. Mari Kodama does not just play a composition. She has the imaginative ability to lay bare what is hidden in the score. Brahms’s deepest, passionate feelings for the newly discovered friendship in all its human and personal expression. For both? Or is it a secret declaration of (impossible) love for Clara? Whatever it was, Mari Kodama has the extraordinary gift to convey her emotional insight to the listener. That, in my view, is what makes her interpretations so very special.
In the Theme and Variations Op. 18B, taken, at the request of Clara, from the second movement of his String Sextet Op. 18, Brahms shows a different, more mature, even melancholic character. Or was it a sign of ‘tristesse’ for something that never materialized? In her interpretation, Mari Kodama depicts an austere mindset in each of the variations, bringing her tale of friendship and discovery of ‘New Paths’ to a magic end, for which she has selected the first song of Clara Schumann’s piano transcription of Robert’s song cycle Myrthen Op. 25.
This recital is as impressive as it is thought-provoking. Using a new Yamaha piano with a sound resembling that of Brahms’s own piano is an interesting feature, and together with Erdo Groot from Polyhymnia taking full responsibility for a most rewarding sound picture makes this release all the more worth anyone’s while.
Performance: 5 Stars, Sonics (Multichannel): 5 Stars
BBC Music Magazine
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.
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