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CLASSICAL  June 2007

CLASSICAL June 2007

Subject:

Godowsky - Java Suite; Wine, Women & Song

From:

Scott Morrison <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 23 May 2007 19:21:06 -0400

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Godowsky: Java Suite; Symphonic Metamorphosis on
Johann Strauss II's 'Wine, Women and Song'
Konstantin Scherbakov, piano
Marco Polo 8.225274

5/5 stars

The Godowsky Renaissance Continues

For many years the piano compositions of Polish-American pianist/composer
Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938) languished in obscurity, rarely played or
recorded.  There was always interest among cognoscenti and among pianists
who loved exploring corners of the modern piano repertoire.  But there
it remained until an upsurge of recordings and performances began perhaps
fifteen or twenty years ago.  There are now three recordings of his
Chopin etude recompositions (and that's what they are: recompositions),
prime among which is that of Marc-Andre Hamelin.  And his superb Passacaglia
and the Sonata have also been recorded.  Rather quietly Naxos's house
virtuoso, Konstantin Scherbakov, has been recording what appears to be
a complete traversal of the piano works; this CD is Volume 8.  And it
contains some of the most interesting music to date: the Java Suite
(originally entitled 'Phonorama: Tonal Journey for the Pianoforte') and
the delectable 'Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of Johann Strauss II
-- No.  3: Wine, Women and Song'.  The latter has been recorded a number
of times, the former has only been recorded once, as far as I know, by
Esther Budiardjo on ProPiano, a recording I've not heard.

For me by far the most interesting thing here is the Java Suite, an
almost 50 minute set of twelve short character pieces whose inspiration
was that of the music of the Indonesian island, Java.  Written in 1925,
Godowsky's suite must have seemed exotic to early listeners.  The first
piece 'Gamelan' may very well have introduced that word and the sound
of gamelan-style music to many westerners.  (Of course, French composers
in particular had been influenced by this sort of music back in 1889
when a Javanese gamelan played at the Paris World's Fair, and indeed it
is notable that much of Godowsky's music necessarily sounds like similar
works by Debussy.) Technically much of Godowsky's Java Suite makes use
of both whole-tone and pentatonic scales.  Thus, even to the untrained
ear, the music sounds Eastern.

Among the more striking effects in the Java Suite are the heavily perfumed
atmosphere of 'The Gardens of Buitenzorg' ('Buitenzorg' means 'Sans
Souci'), the quick repeated-note fourths and fifths of 'Chattering Monkeys
at the Sacred Lake of Wendit', the use of Debussyan chords of the ninth
in 'Boro Budur in Moonlight' and the stylized gestures of 'A Court Pageant
in Solo'.  I found myself going back again and again to hear this suite.

Godowsky's delightfully lilting pianistic transformation of Johann Strauss
II's 'Wine, Women and Song' is virtuosic in the extreme.  Scherbakov
tosses it off as if it weren't and stylishly at that.  Lucky us.

For anyone even more than a little interested in Godowsky's music,
this release is a must. And for those who enjoy exploring unfamiliar
20th-century piano music but who don't cotton to extreme modernism,
this release is self-recommending.  It should be noted that the formerly
full-price Marco Polo label is now selling its new releases at budget
price.

[This review appears and the CD can be purchased (and help out Classicalnet,
too) at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product//B000MRP1R8/classicalnet/ ]

Scott Morrison

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