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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1935)
Miroirs (1904-05)
Noctuelles [5:13]
Oiseaux tristes [3:56]
Une barque sur l’océan [7:31]
Alborada del gracioso [6:59]
La vallée des cloches [5:19]
Toru TAKEMITSU (1930-1996)
Rain Tree Sketch (1982) [4:00]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
La fauvette des jardins (1970) [32:25]
Momo Kodama (piano)
rec. September 2012, Historischer Reitstadel, Neumarkt
ECM NEW SERIES 2343 [65:38]

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.
Dominy Clements