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Leopold GODOWSKY (1870-1938)
Piano Music, Volume 6: Schubert Transcriptions, Arrangements and Paraphrases

Passacaglia [19’10]. Song Transcriptions: Die schöne Müllerin – No. 1, Das Wandern [2’25]; No. 7, Ungeduld [3’00]; No. 8, Morgengrüss [3’34]; No. 18, Trockne Blumen [3’28]; Winterreise - No. 1, Gute Nacht [4’48]. Heidenröslein [1’56]. Schwanengesang - Am Meer [3’09]. Liebesbotschaft [3’09]. An Mignon [3’56]. Die Forelle [2’03]. Wiegenlied [2’39]. Wohin? [2’27]. Die junge Nonne [3’32]. Litanei [4’42]. Ballet Music from ‘Rosamunde’ [3’30]. Moment musical, Op. 94 No. 3 [2’06].
Konstantin Scherbakov (piano).
Rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, on December 3rd-4th, 2002. DDD
MARCO POLO 8.225187 [69’34]


Interesting that the Godowsky Passacaglia (on the opening of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony) comes into direct competition with a recent account from the same company (HNH): that of Antti Siirala on Naxos 8.555997. The overlap continues with Morgengrüss and Gute Nacht. The two discs even share the same producer, Andrew Walton.

Comparison is fascinating. For all of Siirala’s youthful potential, Scherbakov gives consistently more musical performances, while losing nothing in virtuoso command.

Where Siirala’s recital led to the towering edifice of the Passacaglia, Scherbakov opts to begin with this daunting keyboard extravaganza. Scherbakov’s ear for textural variety is one of the more appealing facets of his performance and helps to meld his account into a convincing, and varied, whole. The opening is shrouded in mystery, the progressive layerings over the bass theme seeming inevitable and yet magical. It is only when on the odd occasion Scherbakov forces his tone and starts ‘banging’ (e.g. around 6’40) that the experience becomes uncomfortable. The Erlkönig quote (beginning at 11’10) suffers from this also.

The fourteen song transcriptions that follow are a nicely contrasted set. Any mention of this sort of repertoire for this reviewer inevitably brings back memories of the great Jorge Bolet, whose appetite for the transcriptions and paraphrases of various origins bore great musical fruit. All too often I wanted to hear Bolet’s humour and unending technical resources in these Godowsky pieces. Scherbakov’s technique, fine though it is, is not infallible, as his reading of ‘Ungeduld’ shows: the pulse is interrupted on various occasions for no good reason except for the fact that he is human.

However, he shows he is as capable of evoking the tender valediction of ‘Gute Nacht’ as he is of highlighting the hesitant yet hopeful spirit of ‘Morgengrüss’, where Godowsky takes the Schubert original and spins a line with it.

His ‘Wohin?’ is watery enough, but it is his final Schubert Lied, ‘Litanei’, that shows his innate tenderness.

Two ‘encores’ round off Scherbakov’s offering. The Rosamunde Ballet Music begins rather heavy-handedly, but progresses towards a witty conclusion; the 1922 arrangement of a Moment musical is better.

The recording of Godowsky’s output over so many volumes is, of course, a highly praiseworthy activity and rest assured there is nothing significant here to make one regret the outlay.

Colin Clarke

See also review by Paul Shoemaker


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