GODOWSKY Studies on Chopin
Godowsky’s 53 Studies on Chopin’s Études (or 54 or 55 depending on whether you include different ossias in numbering them) present a formidable challenge to any pianist, famously described by the late Harold C Schonberg, music critic of the New York Times, as ‘the most impossibly difficult things ever written for the piano’. You can see his point. Take Study No 4 (the second of Godowsky’s two versions of Op 10 No 2), which assigns the already challenging material of the original to be played by the left hand, leaving the right hand free to provide a hemiola counterpoint of triplets in (mainly) thirds, fourths and sixths. The tempo is allegro.
Why bother? ‘Because’, as mountaineers say of Mount Everest, ‘it’s there.’ For the listener, it’s undoubtedly true that you need to know the Chopin originals to derive the greatest pleasure from Godowsky’s arrangements. Occasionally the complex polyphony is just too clever for its own musical good but the best of these studies on studies are extraordinarily inventive and ingenious. Only top flight virtuosos need apply. Emanuele Delucchi is one of them. He is, I believe, one of only three people ever to have played Nos 1‑22 live in concert (Carlo Grante and Francesco Libetta have given the complete set).
In welcoming his earlier Godowsky disc (12/15), I wondered whether his choice of a 1906 Steinway D was a help or hindrance to tone production. After further restoration work, its palette of warm colours remains intact but has gained a more incisive attack, allowing Delucchi’s voicing and extraordinary digital facility to be heard at their best. Added to this – and there is no better example than Study No 1 – his delight and (heaven knows how it’s possible) evident enjoyment in the execution of these pieces brings to them the human heart essential to Chopin’s originals, but which is quite lacking in some other recorded performances. The mighty Marc-André Hamelin in his complete survey remains omnipotent but Delucchi gives him a run for his money and, on the type of instrument which Godowsky would have known, is in a class of his own.