GODOWSKY The Art of Transcription
If you have never sampled any Godowsky – or even if you are a Godowskyphobe (I’ve encountered a few over the years) – this may be the place to start. Why? Because Godowsky was one of the great piano transcribers and this is a cleverly programmed bran tub which picks some of the best. Moreover, there are only two other recordings of the ‘very freely transcribed and adapted’ Bach G minor Violin Sonata (Konstantin Scherbakov on Marco Polo and Carlo Grante on Music & Arts), both excellent and programmed with the other two that Godowsky tackled. No one in their right mind would want to listen to all three without a break; but, included in a mixed programme, there is no such consideration – indeed, hearing the piece in isolation like this greatly enhances its attraction.
That is not to say that all the performances match or supersede individual items played by others. Wagschal has to compete not only with Scherbakov (who has recorded almost all of Godowsky’s output) but with the formidable Marc-André Hamelin, whose complete recordings of the 53 Chopin-Godowsky Studies and the four Johann Strauss II-Godowsky Metamorphoses remain the nonpareil. (The booklet reproduces the first page of Study No 13 for pianophiles to marvel at Godowsky’s ingenuity.)
But in the end there is so much to admire about Wagschal’s grasp of and complete empathy with the genre that comparisons become irrelevant. His handling of Godowsky’s multi-layered voices is masterly and the variety of tone and touch he brings to the Schumann, Albéniz, Saint-Saëns and six Schubert transcriptions is most sensitively judged. He both charms and swaggers in Wein, Weib und Gesang (uncut, unlike Cherkassky’s classic account); here and in The Star-Spangled Banner he is not afraid to unleash the full resources of his well-recorded piano. Altogether, 76 minutes of hyphenated Godowsky pass very quickly indeed in the hands of this gifted pianist.