Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:


Java Suite (1925)
World Premiere Recording

Alexander TANSMAN

La Flute de Bambou dans la foret de Bandoeng
Le Gamelang de Bali

Esther Budiardjo (piano)
rec 12-13 Aug 1999, New Jersey
PROPIANO PPR224529 [60.38]


Godowsky's Java Suite is a sequence of some substance. Its fourteen movements play for over fifty minutes. A fabled work among piano fanciers one can easily appreciate its glamour as a virtuoso showcase. It is however considerably more than the equivalent of yet another collection of velocity displays. It is also more than the musical equivalent of a tourist route through an exotic locale.

The work was written in the mid-1920s after the Polish composer's concert tour of Asia. How easy it would have been for Godowsky to have succumbed to the low-brow picture postcard pieces peddled by so many composers and usually pitched at a technical level within the compass of the drawing room pianist. Godowsky was having none of that. This was no doubt despite the blandishments of his publishers. What we have instead is a virtuoso Indonesian sequence rife with the dulcet tintinnabulation of the gamelan. This music is much more akin to the Eastern experiments of Britten, Koechlin and Hovhaness than it is to the usually tinpot 'finery' of Ketelbey and a hundred other purveyors of the tame 'mystic Orient.'

The music is light but not intellectually bankrupt: approachable without kitsch; affecting without being wince-making. The Wayang-Purwa is not the only piece to have the air of a John Ireland miniature. Think in terms of On a May Morning or Amberley Wild Brooks. The grace personified of Hari Besaar contrasts with the jabbering rhythms and cheeky humour of Chattering Monkeys at the Sacred Lake of Wendit. The music is extremely romantic: tangy and virile. The Bromo volcano and Sand Sea at Daybreak is less threatening than I had expected; instead seeming to catch the mood of new-minted confidence in the dawn. The rippling bells of In the Streets of Old Batavia lead on to an evocation of the courtly lotus-eating vanity of In the Kraton. This will surely appeal to anyone who appreciates de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain or Symanowski's Métopes. The crystalline clarity, heat-haze, fountains and ferns combine in a sultry dream.

Budiardjo (Java-born, currently completing her Doctorate at the New England Conservatory of Music) is responsive to Godowsky's special world and has the spree of notes in her sovereign grasp. This applies equally to her performance of the slightly tougher and more flammable Tansman pieces. A pity that room could not have been found for the piano solo suites by Friskin. If the theme is to be continued one could also hope that Budiardjo will go on to record Josef Holbrooke's Piano Concerto No. 2 'Orient' (1928) the central movement of which is entitled 'Javanese'.

This is an extremely polished disc featuring works of a lighter complexion yet with sufficient intellectual fibre to satisfy. Explorers of the oriental vein in Western music will need to have this delightful disc and I have high hopes that we will hear from Ms Budiardjo again in related repertoire.

The disc can be ordered from Propiano at

Rob Barnett

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