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am 1. Februar 2010
The series of issues with Konstantin Scherbakov playing the complete piano works of Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938) has been going on since the late 1990s, but there hadn't been a new release for perhaps three years. This CD starts with a good deal (32 minutes worth) of original music by Godowsky (not as of this date listed here by Amazon):

Arabesque, Op. 16, No. 2
Barcarolle-Valse, Op. 16, No. 4
Valse-Scherzo
Grande Valse Romantique
Waltz Poem No. 4

The rest of the CD is given over to Godowsky's 'concert versions and arrangements' of six Chopin waltzes, 23 minutes worth. I not only had never heard them before, I'd not even heard of them. But I am very fond of Godowsky's gargantuan oeuvre of Chopin Étude arrangements (best known in the stunning set played by Marc-André Hamelin Godowsky: The Complete Studies on Chopin's Etudes) and was eager to hear what Godowsky had done with several of the better known waltzes. Amazon has not listed them as of the date of this review so I'll list them here:

Arrangements:
Waltz in F Minor, Op. 70, No. 2
Posthumous Waltz in D Flat Major, Op. 70, No. 3
Waltz in A Flat Major, Op. 69, No. 1
Waltz in A Flat Major, Op. 64, No. 3
Waltz in D Flat Major, Op. 64, No. 1 'Minute Waltz'

Paraphrase de concert:
Grande Valse Brillante in E Flat Major, Op. 18

Like the Chopin waltzes here, all of the original Godowsky music on this disc is in triple time. So we have fifty-six minutes of whirling, ebullient music. With all that dancing rhythm, I found that I did better listening to the Godowsky pieces alone and then coming back later for the Chopin. Godowsky's style is late romantic -- all but one of these pieces were written in the latter years of the 19th century -- and actually sound as if they could have been written earlier. The latest piece, the Waltz Poem No. 4, was written in 1930, and indeed it is harmonically more sophisticated, influenced as it is by Rachmaninoff and Scriabin. These works are pleasant and occasionally rise above that, but because Godowsky was a less memorable tunesmith than Chopin they are not notably outstanding, except for the Waltz Poem which is really quite striking.

Let's be honest, Godowsky's original music tends to pale beside that of Chopin. But let's also admit that Godowsky was a magnificent re-arranger of the great Pole's music. The F Minor Waltz has its harmonies elaborated delicately, as is also true of the Posthumous D Flat Major Waltz where this is most noticeable in the work's climaxes. One of the main features of the elaboration of Op. 69 A Flat Major Waltz is that there are obviously increased virtuosic demands on the soloist, including as it does some highly engaging additional contrapuntal lines. Scherbakov manages these, of course, with aplomb. Its sister Waltz in A Flat Major, Op. 64, No. 3, has some piquant side-slipping harmonies that, while not exactly Chopinesque, are charming. The 'Minute Waltz' does not, à la Josef Hofmann's version, have the main theme in thirds, but there are some extraordinary contrapuntal and accompanimental additions, particularly in the middle section on to the end. And, unlike Hofmann's version, it does not sound like a stunt.

Standing apart from the other Chopin arrangements here is the 'Paraphrase de concert' of the Grand Valse Brillante, E Flat Major, Op. 18. This is virtually a complete recomposition with major additions of new and unrelated materials to Chopin's original. It has breathaking virtuosic demands with glissandi, rapid-fire arpeggios and filigree. Scherbakov is really in his element here.

I loved this disc. I think you will, too.

Scott Morrison
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