GODOWSKY Piano works and transcriptions (Kwiatkowski)
Thirty years ago, when only a handful of Godowsky’s compositions (originals and arrangements) were available or recorded, one would have been more than grateful for this showcase of Godowsky’s wide-ranging art. Today, with over 40 CDs entirely devoted to his music and many more featuring one or more title, his entire output is currently out there. In other words, there is now stiff competition in the Godowsky market.
Make no mistake, Łukasz Kwiatkowski (b1981, Łódz´) is a fine pianist; but while there is much to admire about his playing, while the actual choice of works is unique to this CD and while he has been exceptionally well recorded, one turns back to superior – often only marginally so – earlier recordings of this music. I voiced a similar reaction in reviewing Laurent Wagschal’s Godowsky recital (Evidence, 10/16), which includes three titles in common with Kwiatkowski’s. There is little to choose between them in the Violin Sonata, though Wagschal includes the brief cadenza in the Fantasia movement (Scherbakov is another who omits it – Marco Polo, 11/97) and takes a more leisurely view of Wein, Weib und Gesang.
The single (major) original work that Kwiatkowski includes is the Passacaglia based on the opening of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. This is a fine account but, as is evident from that pre eminent Godowskian Marc-André Hamelin (Hyperion, 3/02), there is much more to be had from its 44 variations, cadenza and fugue than heard here. When it comes to unravelling dense polyphony with lucid lyricism, the Canadian is in a class of his own.
The Swan transcription, Godowsky’s most-recorded work, is matter-of-fact beside the magic of Cherkassky (and, by the way, there is no evidence, as asserted by Kwiatkowski in his booklet, that, when Saint-Saëns wrote it, ‘the piece Swan illustrates a dying swan’). Again, hear Jorge Bolet play The Swan (1974) and the Elegy for the Left Hand Alone (1982), the latter a small masterpiece of the genre: at nearly a minute longer (3'12") in Bolet’s hands, it is profoundly touching (both are on ‘Ambassador from the Golden Age’ – Marston, 7/15).