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The Complete Leopold Godowsky: Volume 2 - The Brunswick Recordings 1922-25
Leopold Godowsky (piano)
Recorded 1922-25
MARSTON 52051-2
[77.45 + 75.01]

Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)

Prelude in C sharp minor Op.3 No.2 [3.40]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Tarantella from Venezia e Napoli – abridged [4.19]
Etude de Concert No.2 in F minor La Leggierezza [4.34]
Liebestraum No.3 in A flat - two performances [4.03] + [4.38]
Gnomenreigen – two performances [3.16] + [3.02]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Etude in G flat Op10 No5 Black keys [1.45]
Etude in G flat Op.25 No.9 Butterfly [1.07]
Waltz in E flat Op.18 Grande valse brillante [4.23]
Ballade No.3 in A flat Op.47 – abridged [4.33]
Polonaise in A flat Op Op.53 – abridged [4.47]
Nocturne in D flat Op.27 No.2 [4.10]
Waltz in A flat Op.34 No.1 [4.17]
Scherzo No.2 in B flat minor – abridged [4.42]
Berceuse in D flat Op.57 [4.34]
Polonaise in C sharp minor Op.26 No.1 [4.09]
Etude in A flat Op.25 No.1 Aeolian Harp [2.10]
Etude in E Op.25 No.3 [1.57]
Waltz in A flat Op.42 [3.57]
Polonaise in A Op.40 No.1 [3.47]
Fantasie-Impromptu in C sharp minor Op.66 [4.11]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849) - Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Chant Polonais No.5 Op.74 No.5 My Joys – two performances [4.24] + [3.18]
Chant Polonais No.1 Op.74 No.1 The Maiden’s Wish [3.15]
Ernö von DOHNANYI (1877-1960)

Capriccio in F minor Op28 No.6 [2.35]
Eduard SCHUTT (1856-1933)

A la bien-aimée Op.59 No.2 – abridged [3.15]
Adolf von HENSELT (1814-1849)

Wiegenlied in G flat Op.45 [3.14]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) - Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Rigoletto Paraphrase – abridged [4.25]
Anatole LIADOV (1855-1914)

The Musical Snuff Box Op.32 [2.40]
Christian SINDING (1856-1941)

Rustle of Spring Op.32 No.3 [2.44]
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)

Spanish Dance No.5 in E minor Playera [3.26]
Cecile CHAMINADE (1857-1944)

The Flatterer Op.50 [3.13]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

Song Without Words in A Op.62 No.6 Spring Song [2.24]
Edward MACDOWELL (1860-1908)

Witches’ Dance Op.17 No.2 [2.56]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) - Carl TAUSIG (1841-1871)

Marche Militaire No.1 [4.13]
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)

Rêve Angelique Op.10 No.22 [4.44]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Golliwog’s Cakewalk from Children’s Corner [2.59]
Minstrels No.12 from preludes Book 1 [2.06]
Clair de lune from Suite Bergamasque [4.30]
Reflets dans l’eau, No.1 from Images Book 1 [4.20]

In A Boat Op.30 No.1 from Chansons de la Mer [3.03]
Eastwood LANE (1879-1951)

The Crap Shooters from Five American Dances [2.39]

The one thing that even non-specialists may remember about Godowsky is his famous injunction to an Australian friend not to judge him by his records. It’s now over sixty years since Godowsky uttered those more-than-merely-rueful words and critical ink has seldom refrained from pointing out either that remark or that the fruits of his numerous recording dates were at best massively uneven.

Volume two in Marston’s three volume series reaches the 1922-25 Brunswick recordings, which were themselves the mid period between his earlier American Columbia sides and his final English Columbias, some of which feature some of the most moving and successful sessions he ever recorded, this shortly before the calamitous stroke that effectively ended his career. Marston has retained the acoustic discs’ crackle – the majority here were recorded acoustically – but this has meant that higher frequencies have been retained and that Godowsky’s tone emerges fully and freely without any dampening.

The listener will immediately notice that Brunswick practised wholesale abridgements. They were of course hardly unique in that respect but it is still impoverishing to hear the truncations accorded Chopin’s Ballade in A flat in this October 1922 recording. Similar criticisms can be applied to the torso of the B flat minor Scherzo from 1924 and indeed to the Polonaise in A flat. Throughout these Chopin pieces in particular the impression is mixed; great imaginative understanding one minute, then dubious and peremptory playing in abridged 78 sides the next. The Nocturne in D flat therefore is rushed to cram it onto one 78 side. And yet even here things are uncertain. There are two versions, a year apart, of the Chopin-Liszt Chant Polonais No.5 Op.74/5 My Joys and they could not be more different in terms of tempo. His Waltz in A flat is non-committal and in fact rather uninteresting but when one turns to Dohnányi’s sparkling Capriccio we find his fingers in fine digital form and his mind alert to the craftsmanship of this recently composed gem. It is as if, untrammelled by expectations as to his playing of the canonic repertoire, Godowsky is freed.

Godowsky was not above essaying trifles of which there are a goodly number. His Sinding wasn’t published at the time but is delightful in much the same way as the cut Liszt Tarantella from Venezia e Napoli is a wholly admirable statement. If his Chopin Polonaise in A (February 1924) is too careful – it sounds inhibited as Godowsky all too often could in the studio and, from critical comments, in the concert hall as well – one should listen to such as the Sinding for evidence of his glittering and majestic control and to extrapolate why his colleagues always maintained that he was heard at his finest in private. Normally this is platitudinous but not, I think, in his case. MacDowell’s Witches’ Dance for example is a superior example of his public face but of even more worth is his Debussy, of which there are four examples here. If one doesn’t especially associate Godowsky with Debussy so much the worse for our expectations if his Reflets dans l’eau is anything to go by.

It’s undeniably the case that these Brunswicks lack the obvious Romantic pile-drivers against which we could measure Godowsky’s overtly virtuosic and extroverted credentials. But he was a master of the subtler canvas and a master of the polyphonic and of course very much of his time in textual emendations. His uneven recordings point to a personality unsettled by the mechanical and by contrivance - a sensibility shared by numerous colleagues not least Hess and Curzon. It’s in this light that we should consider the recordings, enhanced as they are here by extensive notes and by those well aerated Marston textures.

Jonathan Woolf




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