GODOWSKY Piano Music Vol 13
Scherbakov began the unprecedented task of recording Godowsky’s complete works nearly two decades ago. The end is in sight – and this volume is unquestionably among the finest of the series in content, performance and sound.
One of Godowsky’s nicknames was ‘The Apostle of the Left Hand’. You can hear why in the Six Pieces for the Left Hand Alone (mainly from 1929). Listening blind, would you know the music was being played by one hand? I doubt it. And, if you did, would you believe it? To my mind they are far more effective in this form than in Godowsky’s subsequent versions for two hands heard on Vol 11 (A/13).
The rest of the disc is given over to transcriptions of various kinds. These include the early and very seldom-heard arrangements of Weber’s Momento capriccioso and Chopin’s Rondo, Op 16, which now seem rather pointless exercises, adding nothing of interest to the originals and losing their essential characters in the process.
Godowsky’s contrapuntal genius is put to better use with the ingenious interweaving of themes from Die Fledermaus and in this, one of his most frequently played works, Scherbakov is up there with the best (Hamelin, Freire, Moiseiwitsch) and, moreover, plays it with all the repeats. In Godowsky’s perfumed take on Saint-Saëns’s ‘The Swan’ from Carnival of the Animals, Scherbakov has to compete with Cherkassky for charm and pianistic finesse: he comes up smelling of roses.
How elegantly and with what sincerity and empathy for the idiom he plays the other (minor) transcriptions. These include a proper rarity (not alluded to in the booklet) in the form of an unpublished arrangement of The Last Waltz by Oscar Straus (1870-1954) notated by Gilles Hamelin, pianophile father of Marc-André, from a piano roll made by Godowsky. All in all, if you haven’t sampled Godowsky before, this is as good a place as anywhere to start.