A varied selection of Godowsky transcriptions makes for a potent demonstration of pianist Wagschal’s gifts.

GODOWSKY: Transcriptions = CHOPIN: Study No. 5 for the left hand on Etude in E, Op. 10, No. 3; Study No. 13 for the left hand on Etude, Op. 10, No. 6; Study No. 34 on Etude, OP. 25, No. 5; Study No. 45 on Etude No. 2 of Trois nouvelles etudes; BACH: Violin Sonata in g, BWV 1001; SCHUBERT: Heidenroeslein; Wiegenlied; Moment musical No. 3 in f; Morgengruss; Ballet excerpt from Rosamunde; Gute Nacht; SCHUMANN: Du bist wie eine Blume; J. STRAUSS II: Metamorphosis on motifs from Wein, Weib und Gesang; ALBENIZ: Tango, Op. 165, No. 2; SAINT-SAENS: Le cygnet; SMITH: The Star-Spangled Banner – Laurent Wagschal, p. – Evidence EVCD026, 76:03 (10/21/16)  [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Any pianist competent and confident enough to address the many – some 400 – transcriptions (1893-1914) by the Polish pedagogue Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938) has much to offer, especially when you consider the degree of “originality” that lies in Godowsky’s virtuosic restatements of the masters’ music.  Laurent Wagschal (rec. 10-13 July 2015) performs nineteen such arrangements, and they convey the vertically, harmonically daring adjustments Godowsky made to other composer’s works, often treating the scores with a thick polyphonic texture. Many of the 53 studies that Godowsky created came about through his own confrontation with Chopin’s double-thirds etudes, now specifically groomed to accommodate Godowsky’s desire to strengthen left-hand technique.  Often, Godowsky succeeds, like Ravel would in his own D Major Concerto, in creating the illusion of two hands, as in the “Mazurka” Etude, Op. 25, No. 5. For the Nouvelle Etude No. 2, Godowsky increases its natural three-versus-two complexity by proposing an ongoing series of arresting, polyrhythmic structures in variation. The passing harmonies involve dissonances that venture into Twentieth Century sonority.

Godowsky claimed that his procedures were “a logical outgrowth of the inherent musical content” of the originals. For the Bach of 1922-1924, Godowsky wished only to extend the polyphony and the harmony “in the spirit of the master and his period.”  Prior to this reading by Wagschal, my only experience was that by Sergio Fiorentino. The opening Adagio of the Violin Sonata has a luster and vertical richness we would ascribe to Liszt, but more aptly Busoni. The thickness often resembles that of a Romantic, contrapuntal fantasia, rife with passing ornaments and melancholy scale passages. If the Adagio posits an “organ sonority,” the ensuing Fuga further capitalizes on the often aggressive sonority of the modern keyboard, building its stretti much in the manner of the famous Chaconne in d minor. The Siciliana comes across a lyrically tender dirge, if that does not pose a contradiction in terms. The Presto finale surges forth in the manner of a spirited toccata whose staccati seem to yearn for Glenn Gould’s fingers. We need not lament, since Wagschal’s digits realize a sweeping tempest of rapid motion that remains dramatically potent and liquidly resonant.

In 1926, Godowsky transcribed twelve lieder of Franz Schubert, much indebted to the Liszt style of keyboard technique. Like Liszt, Godowsky exploits variation procedure upon the song’s refrains, but his attitude remains more intimate and less splashy. The treble emerges above the polyphonic tissue in a clear, ardent articulation, as in Heidenroseslein. The transcription of the Moment musical we know from Shura Cherkassky’s idiosyncratic authority.  The Morgengruss – from Die schoene Muellerin – has a dreamy and passionate effect that Edward MacDowell might have coveted. After the familiar Rosamunde ballet in layered fashion, Wagschal plays a lied from Die Winterreise, “Gute Nacht,” which opens the lugubrious cycle with a heavy heart but not a heavy hand from Wagschal.  The largest transcription, the c. 1912 Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes from “Wine, Women, and Song,” treats the Waltz King as a fecund, kaleidoscopic source of stratified Viennese lilts. This rendition captures the old, magical glitter, the powder and paint, that a Hofmann or Moiseiwitsch might have bestowed on its singing patina.

The richly chromatic, contrapuntal Albeniz Tango in D sways, sashays, and swaggers seductively. Godowsky maintained a cultivated appreciation of Saint-Saens, whom he knew personally; hence, a loving realization of “The Swan” from The Carnival of the Animals. For his American tours, Godowsky enjoyed his rousingly aristocratic The Star-Spangled Banner to begin his programs, a fine adumbration of his naturalized American citizenship in 1892. The fine keyboard sound owes its presence to Fredric Briant.

—Gary Lemco