WORKS: Studies on Chopin’s Études (complete)
PERFORMER: Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67411-12
This small, green box contains the pianophile’s ultimate heaven. As if Chopin’s studies were not difficult enough already, Godowsky transforms them, in the words of Harold Schonberg, into ‘probably the most difficult things ever written for the piano’; and to record them complete has to be one of the most breathtaking feats of virtuosity ever accomplished by any pianist, let alone with the poetry and beauty that Hamelin brings to them.
Godowsky’s aims in creating these pianistic Fabergé eggs were rock-solid – not least, to ensure the equal ability of the left hand, often oddly marginalised by Chopin; hence the high number of works for left hand only. His imagination, however, is staggering. The original studies – perfect in themselves, of course – are filled out with entire worlds of magical inner voicing, inspired counter-melodies and lush textures comparable with the richest excesses of art nouveau. If the entire sequence is ‘too rich a meal’ (Hamelin’s words) to hear at one go, try the following for starters: No. 25, transforming the ‘Aeolian Harp’ into an Aeolian orchestra; No. 34, which turns Op. 25/5 into a mazurka worthy of Chopin himself; No. 42, turning the ‘Winter Wind’ Étude into a veritable hurricane; and No. 47, mind-bogglingly marrying Op. 10/5 to Op. 25/9. This recording redoubles Hamelin’s growing status as today’s compleat pianist, equal to anything that Godowsky cares to throw at him. Yet perhaps his greatest achievement is that this recording leaves the listener marvelling not only at Hamelin’s incomparable pianism, but above all at the wizardry of the music itself.