Leopold Godowsky: Piano Music, Vol. 11

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GODOWSKY Six Pieces for Both Hands (Concert Album). Märchen. Suite for Left Hand Alone. Prelude and Fugue for the Left Hand Alone. Moto Perpetuo. Symphonic Metamorphoses of the Schatz-Walzer Themes from The Gypsy Baron by Johann Strauss, Jr. Konstantin Scherbakov (pn) MARCO POLO 8225350 (74:58)

This, the 11th volume in the series devoted to the complete piano works of Leopold Godowsky performed by Konstantin Scherbakov, features some of the composer’s less well-known repertoire. And though more obscure it may be, it is no less demanding than his mainstream repertoire, if we may call any of his compositions that. Featuring some works for both hands, the main focus of this recital is the fiendishly difficult repertoire for the left hand alone. Even the first set of pieces on the program—the Six Pieces for both hands —are in fact arrangements of works which Godowsky originally conceived for just the left hand. They are so much more than just that, though—they are true reworkings in the best sense, so much so that they really should be considered different compositions. Scherbakov easily handles the numerous perils imposed by the music, his crowning achievement coming especially in the last, the “Etude Macabre,” a musico-technical nightmare consisting of an almost constant chain of three against four, shifting between right hand and left hand combinations, in addition to issues of voicing, often in middle registers, moving through a plethora of keys—it makes Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu , with its three on four combinations, seem like a Clementi sonatina. The largest work on this recital, the Suite for Left Hand Alone (consisting of Allemande, Courante, Gavotte, Sarabande, Bourrée, Sicilienne, Menuet, and Gigue) looks like an updated Baroque suite of sorts. Godowsky was very proud of this work, saying that it had a sense of “flow, a large line, a convincing polyphony, and a melodic and harmonic inevitableness.” And though it may resemble music of yesteryear, it sounds purely of its time. It is filled with the harmonic complexity of Godowsky’s best music, the intricate polyphony, often balanced in a single hand by means of careful directions for articulation, and a lushness of conception, but one which is carefully molded never to sound sentimental. Scherbakov shows his ability here to not only handle the mechanics of this music, but to shape it into a musically convincing whole. He breathes with this music, performing these pieces as little lyrical gems, but is careful to never relinquish the inherent rhythmic drive. Equally fascinating are the Prelude and Fugue for Left Hand Alone and the Symphonic Metamorphosis on Strauss Themes , also for a single hand: while I admire his rendition of the former—surely a performance this solid, this musical of a Fugue for the Left Hand Alone is worthy of even more than just admiration—my opinion of the latter piece is that it is less convincing. Scherbakov’s Strauss seems a bit wooden, a bit too straightforward; it misses the characteristic lilt of the Viennese waltz when those themes make their appearance. The other works, the Märchen and the Moto Perpetuo (later reworked as the far more complex Toccata, op. 13) are both early works, written when the composer was not yet 20 years of age. They show already his mastery of the instrument and, some may say, the founding of his own style. Throughout Scherbakov proves to be the perfect advocate of this much-too-little-performed music. His technical abilities are never less than extraordinary, and his musical message is always at the forefront of his interpretations. This is gold-standard piano playing which should not be missed.

FANFARE: Scott Noriega

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8225350

  • UPC: 636943535028

  • Label: Marco Polo

  • Composer: Leopold Godowsky

  • Performer: Konstantin Scherbakov