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Leopold Godowsky: Phonoramas

Godowsky / Saens / Petersson
Release Date: 05/24/2011 
Label:  Sterling   Catalog #: 1671   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Leopold GodowskyCamille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Carl Petersson
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 56 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

GODOWSKY Java Suite. SAINT-SAËNS-LISZT-HOROWITZ Danse Macabre Carl Petersson (pn) STERLING CDA 1671-2 (56:33)

In the 1920s, Leopold Godowsky embarked on a series of what he called “Phonoramas”: “musical travelogues” that would “re-create [his] roaming experiences” involving “distant countries and strange people.” He in fact only wrote the first, the Java Suite , a set of 12 musical Read more postcards that exude a faded charm—a charm that derives less from any musicologically correct evocation of Java itself than it does from its evocation of the way 1920s Westerners perceived the “picturesque” world of the “docile” Javanese (the “realm of enchantment” created by the gamelan, the “uncanny, eerie, melancholy mood” of the moonlight at Boro Budur).

In part, no doubt, because of its attempt to represent a non-Western musical culture, the Java Suite is less dense, and certainly less contrapuntal, than, say Godowsky’s more familiar Strauss paraphrases or his reworkings of the Chopin etudes. Still, the technical challenges are substantial. As Adrian Corleonis put it in his review of Esther Budiardjo’s “sensuous” recording ( Fanfare 23:5), the Java Suite ’s “gamelan-informed, teasingly syncopated textures sprawl busily over the entire keyboard,” and the “pentatonic evocations of Javanese melody … must emerge from the relentless figuration with plangent clarity.” No easy feat.

Youngish pianist Carl Petersson, approaching 30 when he made this recording in 2010, certainly has the facility that the idiom demands, offering performances of tremendous verve and transparency. He’s got the textural control to allow the busiest music to emerge cleanly (say, “In the Streets of Old Batavia,” where the bazaars offer a “kaleidoscopic, multifarious conglomeration of humans [that] bewilders even the most seasoned globe-trotter”); he has enviable control of repeated notes (most evident in “Chattering Monkeys at the Sacred Lake of Wendit”); and he’s got the stamina and power to splash out the most dramatic climaxes (listen to the very end of the cycle).

An impressive performance, then—but not quite a comprehensive one. In the prefatory material in the score, Godowsky points to several special demands of the music, including the need for “extreme softness” in the frequent pp passages and the need for subtlety and sensitivity when it comes to finding appropriate tempos and appropriate “undulations of time within any movement.” It’s here, I think, that Petersson sometimes falls short; while the more extroverted music is consistently energizing, the more intimate moments are sometimes scanted. Surely, the pianissimos could be more haunting in the shimmering “Boro Budur in Moonlight,” just as there could be more perfume in “The Gardens of Buitenzorg,” the most familiar destination for pianists who have dipped into this repertoire.

Even so, this new disc offers a significant alternative to the Budiardjo. The scorching account of Horowitz’s elaboration of Liszt’s elaboration of Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre (itself an elaboration of an earlier song) makes a splendid encore, and the performances are captured in good, if not state-of-the-art, sound. Valuable notes, too, although better proofreading would help. Recommended.

FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
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Works on This Recording

Java Suite: Phonoramas, Tonal Journeys for piano by Leopold Godowsky
Performer:  Carl Petersson (Piano)
Period: Modern 
Written: 1924-1925 
Venue:  Kraków Music Academy concert hall, Polan 
Length: 40 Minutes 21 Secs. 
Danse macabre in G minor, Op. 40 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Carl Petersson (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1874; France 
Venue:  Kraków Music Academy concert hall, Polan 
Length: 9 Minutes 7 Secs. 

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