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

Passacaglia (1928) [19.10]
Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)
Songs transcribed by Godowsky:
Trockne Blumen (1937) [3.28]
Ungeduld (1927) [3.00]
Gute Nacht (1927) [4.48]
Das Wandern (1927) [2.25]
Heidenröslein (1927) [1.56]
Am Meer (1937) [3.09]
Liebesbotschaft (1927) [3.09]
An Mignon (1927) [3.56]
Morgengruss (1927) [3.34]
Die Forelle (1927) [2.03]
Wiegenlied (1927) [2.39]
Wohin? (1927) [2.27]
Die junge Nonne (1927) [3.32]
Litanei (1927) [4.42]
Ballet Music from Rosamunde (1923) [3.30]
Moment musical, Op 94 #3 (1922) [2.06]
Konstantin Scherbakov, piano
Recorded at 24 bit resolution in Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK 4 December 2002
Notes in English and Deutsch. No photos.
MARCO POLO 8.225187 [69.34]

Comparison Recordings:
Passacaglia, Sonata in e: Marc-André Hamelin Hyperion CDA 67300
(same) [North America only] Musical Heritage Society 5169562
Passacaglia, Schubert transcriptions, etc: Antti Siralla NAXOS 8.555997
Sonata in e, etc: Scherbakov Marco Polo 8.223899

The full title of the Passacaglia includes "...44 variations, cadenza and fugue on the opening of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished Symphony.’" It and the Piano Sonata (1911) are the only surviving long works by this composer who was more famous for shorter pieces of dazzling virtuosity and brilliant invention. The theme of the Passacaglia (composed to mark the centenary of Schubert’s death) is the doublebass statement at the beginning of the Schubert Symphony, and in the fugue the violin entry which follows and some whiffs of the Erlkönig are used as counter-subjects. The work has a sombre, monumental feeling and moves forward inexorably, recalling the Bach Chaconne for violin in mood. Its substantial length makes it a solemn meditation, not suitable for light listening. For this reason, it’s all but impossible to compare performances in detail for each artist will shape the work for its overall and cumulative effect. Modern recording technique is required to capture the depth and subtlety of the piano sonority in this work, and this (and the difficulty of performance) maybe why the work did not achieve recognition previously.

The Schubert song transcriptions are about the same length as the original songs, and vary from being more or less straightforward presentations of the songs to mini-fantasias involving expansion of counterpoint and harmonies into regions Schubert would never have imagined. Some of them are deceptively difficult to play. Pianists hate works like that — works that are so difficult they have to struggle to get the notes right, and yet sound so easy to play the audience wonders what all the fuss is about. Godowsky used to insist that his music wasn’t difficult for anyone — not just him — to play, but since he was self-taught, nobody else in the world played like he did. Eventually they figured how he did it, and now everybody can play like Godowsky if they want to.

Scherbakov and Hamelin evidently want to, and both turn in first rate performances of the Passacaglia. While the Scherbakov is less expensive, the Hamelin fills out the disk with the e minor Piano Sonata and is available in North America on a Musical Heritage Society club release at mid-price. To obtain the Hamelin program you must buy two Marco Polo disks but you will also obtain some shorter works. On Naxos there is yet another choice (which I have not heard) for the Passacaglia with Antti Siralla, attesting to the rapidity with which the marvellous work, unknown only a short while ago, has become a standard in the repertoire.

Still not widely known is how Godowsky’s son Leo was one of the inventors of Kodachrome film, the first really successful consumer colour film, but that’s a long story for another time.

Paul Shoemaker


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