Godowsky, Tansman

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Godowsky,Tansman
LABELS: Pro Piano
WORKS: Java Suite
PERFORMER: Esther Budiardjo (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: PPR 224529
The sounds of the Javanese gamelan have long excited the interest of composers, from William Crotch to Debussy and onwards. The Polish-born composer and virtuoso pianist Leopold Godowsky wrote his Java Suite in 1925, following a tour of the island in 1923. While Debussy and more recent composers have sought to marry Javanese musical techniques with their own styles, Godowsky’s 12 miniatures generally settle for rather self-indulgent impressions of the things he heard and the places he visited, sometimes quite spectacular in their misrepresentations: while ‘Gamelan’, resonant in its pentatonicism, gives a nice approximation of the music’s soft and loud styles, it’s hard to see how the fragile, melancholy melodies of ‘Wayang Purwa’ connect with the vast, gory, ritual dramas of the ancient Javanese shadow-puppet plays, and the traditional melody Godowsky appropriates for ‘Hari Besaar’ becomes irritating in its constant restatement. ‘The Gardens of Buitenzorg’ is perhaps the most successful piece, a heavily perfumed, searching evocation of the immense botanical gardens in Bogor, intriguing in its formal strangeness and unresolved, hanging dissonances, while ‘The Ruined Water Castle at Djokja’ is Jeux d’eau with a splash of oriental mystery.

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Indonesian pianist Esther Budiardjo has a clean, carefully weighted tone and a fleet agility which copes admirably with Godowsky’s challenging technical demands. However, her pedalling sometimes fails to clear sounds sufficiently, and she’s a little relentless, especially in the faster pieces, not giving the music much of a chance to breathe. The recorded sound is sometimes slightly dull, and often there is a feeling that the gorgeous sonorities Budiardjo creates should ring a little more clearly. David Kettle