LABELS: Marco Polo
ALBUM TITLE: Godowsky
WORKS: Java Suite, Parts 1-4; Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of
J Strauss II – No. 3 ‘Wine, Women
PERFORMER: Konstantin Scherbakov (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.225274
We normally associate Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938) with heroic circus pianism, as witness his preposterously difficult elaborations of Chopin’s etudes, as if these weren’t already difficult enough. But the Russian pianist Konstantin Scherbakov – who first hit the headlines by winning the inaugural Moscow Rachmaninov Competition in 1983 – is recording the whole of Godowsky’s pianistic oeuvre: after the Schubert and Bach transcriptions, he now gives us something completely different.
Godowsky published his Java Suite in New York in 1925, under the title Phonoramas: Tonal Journeys for the Pianoforte. Following the fashionable trend in musical Orientalism, he had become infatuated with the traditional music of the Javanese, noting with interest that it was all in regular duple or quadruple time. And the first of these pieces does indeed evoke the sound of the gamelan, with its dry tintinnabulation and assiduously observed turns of phrase. The effect is suitably charming, as it is in the next piece, based on puppet shadow-plays. But as the suite continues, the boxiness of the acoustic and the basic musical formula start to wear thin, particularly in those pieces designed to suggest street and market scenes.
Scherbakov’s touch is wonderfully expressive of atmosphere, and, in the concluding piece of souped-up Strauss, he blends virtuosity with
real artistry. Michael Church