How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Japan-born and France-educated pianist Momo Kodama is perfectly at home on La vallée des cloches, as she brings her signature, sublime approach to the interpretation of three introspective 20th century gems.
The compositions go from impressionistic to more abstract, both within themselves and throughout the record. Maurice Ravel's five-movement suite "Miroirs," dedicated to various members of his artistic group Les Apaches, opens the album. Kodama punctuates the nocturnal, undulating "Noctuelles" with splashes of bright note clusters, like the shimmer of night moths' wings, imbuing the melody with a vague jazzy sensibility. She brings a dark and quiet romanticism to the melancholic "Oiseaux tristes" and a magical enchantment to the passionate "Une barque sur l'océan."
Her breathtaking arpeggios mimic the sweeping ocean waves with powerful ardor and sensitive agility. Going from percussive chords to gentle caress of the keys Kodama elegantly channels the essence of "Alborada del gracioso" with its intricate woven motifs, dancing rhythms and strong Spanish flair. Kodama plays the final section, from which the disc derives its name, with a Zen contemplation and lullaby-like, deceptively simple refinement.
The physical and thematic bridge between Ravel and fellow Frenchman Olivier Messaien is Japanese Toru Takemitsu's short but intense "Rain Tree Sketch." Deftly mixing minimalistic and traditional influences, Kodama's reading of the piece not only paints a picture of rainfall in a garden but also conveys an almost haunting mysticism.
On Messaien's "La fauvette des jardins," Kodama builds dramatic tension with her reverberating keystrokes that echo in the silent pauses that follow, and the atonal, fast cascade of sparkling notes that mimic the song of the garden warbler of the title. The ambience wavers between pensive solemnity and flittering whimsy, while Kodama's compelling assertive phrases build up to a climax and then, serenity. She unveils the composition's inner spirituality with her intriguingly overlapping and interwoven layers of sound and stillness.
On her ECM debut, Kodama spans continents and eight decades to bring forth a superbly sophisticated and conceptually unified recording. She achieves this with her deep sympathy and total insight into the composers' works, coupled with her sensitive and intelligent virtuosity.
Track Listing: Miroirs (Noctuelles); Miroirs (Oiseaux tristes); Miroirs (Une barque
sur l'océan); Miroirs
(Alborada del grazioso); Miroirs (La vallée des cloches); Rain Tree
Sketch; La fauvette des