Carlo Grante is a pupil of both S. Perticaroli and Rudolf Firkusny, and he likes to show off. By playing music by Weber, Godard, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, and Henselt as arranged by Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938), Grante wants us to know that polyphony is his forte, the sheer joy, a la Busoni and Liszt, of multiple lines of music, as though the piano were a purveyor of motets and madrigals. That the musical textures have become so thick under Godowsky’s treatment and that they can sound clear and lyrical is the challenge Grante faces in any of these etudes. Weber’s Perpetuum Mobile and Invitation to the Dance breathe hard, but they lilt and glitter as well.
The two Schubert entries, the Ballet Music No. 2 from Rosamunde and the F Minor Moment Musical, assume more colors than is their pianistic wont – especially the latter piece, now transcribed into the more chromatic F-sharp Minor. In the midst of Godowsky’s constant swirl of notes, the arrangement of Schumann’s little song from Op. 25, Du bist wie eine Blume, reveals the freshness of harmonic and textural simplicity. Of the Chopin entries, only the Op. 70, No. 3 D-flat Waltz enjoys the economy in Godowsky’s usual tampering. Hard upon the Schumann comes a knuckle-buster extraordinaire, Henselt’s If I Were a Bird Etude, Op. 2, No. 6 – a cascade of repeated notes, trills, double octaves and shifty metrics.
Chopin endures seven of Godowsky’s labyrinthine treatments, not the least of which are the metrical agogics in the Waltz in E-flat, which keeps using B-flats to slide from 3/4 into 3/2. The Minute Waltz becomes something near to a bitonal parody. Godowsky shifts the accents and dynamic pulsations in Chopin’s A-flat Waltz, Op. 64, No. 3 to achieve a springy sense of asymmetries. There is at least one point in the last page where Grante himself seems a bit lost in the acrobatic spaghetti. The A-flat Major, Op. 69, No. 1 is still sentimental, doublings and shifts in registration–along with passing dissonances– make it edgier than normal. Godowsky significantly expands the F Minor Waltz, Op. 70, No. 2 into a tone-poem of the early 20th Century–Reger, maybe. The most unusual addition the Godowsky treatments of the Chopin oeuvre is the Rondo in E-flat Major, Op. 16, a piece I first heard with Horowitz. Godowsky cuts away the opening and proceeds to splice any number of Chopin’s lines and registrations, making the texture denser and eliminating Chopin’s use of negative space–pauses and diatonism–to tighten the structure.
Grante concludes with an arrangement of the popular Canzonetta from Godard’s rarely played Violin Concerto, another embroidered set of roulades and big rhetorical gestures that tend to make us wax nostalgic for the original. Whether all this sprawling bravura warrants anything more than an occasional listen at parties is up to you.
— Gary Lemco