Momo Kodama first came to my attention through her recording of Messiaen’s Catalogue d’Oiseaux (see review) on the Triton label, for which she has also recorded Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus. While her Catalogue
wasn’t my absolute first choice it remains a release which calls me
back from time to time, Kodama’s special touch at the keyboard offering
its own unique attractions.
This is Momo
Kodama’s first ECM recording, but she does have a distinguished career
to look back on. From Osaka, she lived in Germany as a child. At the
age of only 13 she became the youngest student ever accepted at the
Conservatoire national supérieur de musique in Paris, and she has also
studied with the likes of Murray Perahia and András Schiff, enjoying
success at the Munich International Competition at the age of 19 and
becoming its youngest prize-winner.
Given a recording of strikingly beautiful sound and Kodama’s remarkable
musicianship, this is the kind of release which stands on its own,
resisting comparisons by the nature of its programme but also in its
sheer quality as a musical artefact. Ravel’s Miroirs
is the perfect vehicle for such a recording. Nuances down to the
softest sighing strokes of the strings to the passion and drama are
encapsulated in a piece such as Une barque sur l’océan. The
clarity of Kodama’s playing allows Ravel’s vision to shimmer vividly.
She doesn’t manipulate the instrument to create physical spectacle and
soul in the Russian sense. This is French stylishness infused with a
deeply expressive world view of nature and the way us humans are kept
in awe despite all attempts to control and dominate. Colour,
playfulness, strutting matadors and amorous landscapes inhabit her Alborada del gracioso.
Each of these pieces is entirely engrossing from beginning to end, the
imagination and senses lit with the expectations of a burning
touchpaper. The sadness of Oiseaux tristes is palpable but the voices of La vallée des cloches seem like a reply and a resolution, an apotheosis lifting us above nature through spiritual resonances.
Toru Takemitsu’s Rain Tree Sketch
is a perfect transition between Ravel and Messiaen. It embraces the
moods of the former and using much of the musical language of the
latter, but able to hold onto its own identity - just - through a sense
of poetry which transcends tradition and influence.
A single work of over 30-minutes duration, Messiaen’s La fauvette des jardins demands commitment, but rewards it in similar ways to the Catalogue d’Oiseaux
which preceded it. The composer’s distinctively pungent harmonies and
ecstatic resolutions are all here, but in a span which takes us through
a rich range of places and times of day, from nocturnal mystery to the
energy of choruses of birds, each given distinct character and brought
to life with startling virtuosity by Momo Kodama. This is much more
than just a series of portraits of avian nature, and the spiritual
experience expands and develops as the piece progresses. By the end you
are gasping in wonder, and the half-hour has passed as if by magic.
Nicely presented with booklet notes by Hans Klaus Jungheinrich in
German and English, this recording has surpassed my expectations, which
were pretty high to start with. I have no hesitation in relation to it,
though if you are new to Messiaen La fauvette des jardins
might seem a rather daunting prospect. Close your eyes, imagine you are
in that remarkable multi-faceted garden, tune yourself into the
quicksilver lives of a myriad birds and allow yourself to be
transported. If you don’t well up with the wonder of it all then the
sorrow is mine.