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Leopold GODOWSKY (1870–1938)
Johann Strauss II - Piano Transcriptions and other Waltzes
Symphonic Metamorphosis on Künstlerleben (1867) after Johann Strauss II [14:55]
from Walzermasken 24 tone poems in triple time (1911) [13:50]
Symphonic Metamorphosis on Die Fledermaus (1874) after Johann Strauss II [11:04]
from Triakontameron 30 moods and scenes in triple measure (1919-20) [14:33]
Symphonic Metamorphosis on Wein, Weib und Gesang (1869) after Johann Strauss II [12:02]
The Last Waltz (1920) by Oscar Straus; idealized version by Leopold Godowsky [2:33]
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
rec. 14-16 December 2007, Henry Wood Hall, London. DDD
HYPERION CDA67626 [69:09]
Experience Classicsonline

For Hyperion pianist Marc-André Hamelin plays a selection of Leopold Godowsky’s virtuoso piano transcriptions. All the scores are based on or directly inspired by Johann Strauss II and the Vienna waltz; including a short piece by Oscar Straus.
 
The music on this Godowsky selection of transcriptions and waltzes is suffused with associations with Johann Strauss II and the Austrian city of Vienna. Clearly the dynamic of the era would have had an immense effect on Godowsky. Around 1900, Europe was poised on the dawn of a new era. Established society was rapidly changing and the cultural world was being challenged by youthful and often visionary composers, writers, artists and designers. Vienna was it seems at the centre of the European cultural world. At this time in this golden age of early twentieth century design, the influential artist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) was acknowledged by many as the leader of the Viennese Succession. This group of artists and designers, lead by Klimt, instigated a move away from the conservative style of the Viennese Künstlerhaus (founded circa 1865-68; this building on the Ringstrasse has served as an exhibition venue for sculpture, painting, architecture and applied arts).
 
The renowned composer Johann Strauss II had died in 1899. Undoubtedly the music of this famous Waltz King had defined an era, painting a rather rosy picture of Viennese society. Leopold Godowsky, the Polish-born pianist and composer, had from 1908 been living in the swiftly changing, post Johann Strauss II city of Vienna and had stayed until the outbreak of the Great War.
 
Prior to living in Vienna, Godowsky had been resident in America for a decade and subsequently lived in Berlin from 1900. Godowsky at Berlin in December 1900 gave a debut concert performance that included some of his own scores to a resounding success that verged on hysteria. Vienna was also a city that Godowsky played to great acclaim. His reputation in Vienna greatly increased and he was earmarked for the prestigious and highly paid post of the Directorship of the Piano School of the Kaiserliche Academy of Music in Vienna. Godowsky was subsequently chosen for the position in 1909; the first time that a Jew had been appointed to this post that carried with it a rank of honorary colonel and was answerable to the Emperor. Not only was the remuneration generous Godowsky was given time off to study, for composing and to travel to give recitals. This idyllic existence came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of war in 1914. Godowsky fled to the USA, as luck would have it, catching the last boat from Ostend to England. The composer/pianist was to stay in the USA for the rest of his life.
 
This Hyperion disc contains three of Godowsky’s exalted transcriptions on themes by Johann Strauss II, that he called Symphonic Metamorphosis: Künstlerleben (Artist’s life) a contrapuntal paraphrase based on the Op. 316; also Wein, Weib und Gesang (Wine, Women and Song) from Op. 333 and a paraphrase from the celebrated operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat) that he completed in 1907.
 
In 1911 after composing his massive Piano Sonata in E minor Godowsky wrote an original cycle of 24 tone poems in triple time titled Walzermasken. Between 1919-20 he produced another original set of 30 moods and scenes in triple measure named Triakontameron that were inspired by a collection of stories from the fourteenth century writer Giovanni Boccaccio. Despite their rather technical titles these are attractive miniature tone poems for piano unified by the spirit and rhythm of the Vienna waltz. Godowsky did conceive the scores as complete cycles, although it seems, that he was not opposed to individual pieces being selected for performance. Marc-André Hamelin on this Hyperion disc has selected 4 pieces from Walzermaskens and 5 pieces from Triakontameron.
 
The transcription that Godowsky made of The Last Waltz by Oscar Straus was never published and is a repertoire rarity. Sometime prior to 1925 Godowsky had produced a piano roll of the waltz, which is heard throughout the 1920 operetta The Last Waltz; but it was never published. Godowsky’s piano roll was notated, arranged and edited in the 1970s by Gilles Hamelin, the father of Marc-André Hamelin.
 
In these Godowsky’s transcriptions and original waltz infused scores I feel that most listeners will be familiar with the majority of the melodies, although, they may be unfamiliar with their titles and origin. The best known melodies will undoubtedly be from the paraphrase on the world famous operetta Die Fledermaus, a score virtually guaranteed to delight and entertain; especially the famous aria Mein Herr Marquis (The Laughing Song). In the Künstlerleben and Wein, Weib und Gesang transcriptions one cannot fail to be delighted by the plethora of recognisable waltz themes.
 
The selection of four tone poems Walzermasken is highly appealing, especially Pastell the fascinating and thoughtful portrait of Franz Schubert and also the melodic and highly dance-like piece Portrait - Johann Strauss. Of the selection of five tone poems from the Triakontameron collection I loved the mainly reflective piece Rendezvous; the highly popular and agreeable Alt Wien for its nostalgic view of old Vienna; the Terpsichorean Vindobona with its stark contrasts of mood and the elegant and inventive piece The Salon. Another favourite is the final work on the disc the short, light and dreamy Oscar Straus piece The Last Waltz.
 
These are rock-solid keyboard performances from Marc-André Hamelin. One feels that the technical and physical demands places this material beyond the sphere of most pianists. The pianistic control is breathtaking, the virtuosity has great stature, combined with virile strength that radiates enthusiasm. Yet Hamelin is light and delicate in the slower passages, never letting the listener forget that the Viennese waltz is the origin of these scores. This is an undeniably impressive set of rare repertoire played with total assurance by Marc-André Hamelin and admirably recorded by the Hyperion engineers. Gustav Klimt’s famous painting Emilie Floege fittingly adorns the front cover of the booklet serving to enhance the presentation of this disc.
 
Michael Cookson
 

 


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