Notes and Editorial Reviews
Burkhard Schliessmann performs Godowsky's compositions known as "Symphonic Metamorphoses" on waltzes and themes by Johann Strauss, and Liszt's "Piano Transcriptions" of various Schubert songs. Includes bonus DVD Audio track: Burkhard Schliessmann plays Chopin.
R E V I E W S:
As a composer, Godowsky fused a fierce intellectualism with an expansive (even excessive?) romantic flamboyance—and there are consequently radically different routes into his music. Burkard Schliessmann chooses the more intellectual path: his slow, scrupulously crafted accounts of the two big Strauss paraphrases highlight the music’s contrapuntal intricacy rather than its underlying virtuosity. And although he suggested in
his Fanfare interview a year ago (27:4) that he’s more willing to take risks in Godowsky than in the standard Romantic repertoire, these 1997 recordings really don’t bear out that claim. As in his Schumann, control seems more important than fire (try, as but one example, his hard-edged glissandos in Künstlerleben).
It’s not that his playing is cold—his tonal palette is impressively varied, and his sound carries seductively at all dynamic levels, fully present even at the quiet end of the spectrum (try the opening of Künstlerleben) and gloriously rich at even the most grandiose climaxes, which ring out authoritatively. Nor is his playing rigid—there’s plenty of rhythmic flexibility. But you could fairly say that his rubato tends to sound calculated, rather than spontaneous—and that he brings out textural details in a way that underlines Godowsky’s ingenuity rather than his whimsy. In the end, you won’t get anything like Valentina Lisitsa’s sheer demonism or Benno Moiseiwitsch’s kaleidoscopic wit or Piers Lane’s dessert-tray indulgence in Fledermaus—but lovers of these scores will find that Schliessmann’s attempts to bring these pieces outside the supervirtuoso tradition is illuminating, too.
The two shorter Godowsky chestnuts are handled in much the same way—slightly less effectively, perhaps, since they don’t have the intellectual stature of the big pieces. As for the Schubert-Liszt: it has its ups and downs, but for his artfully sung Leise flehen, his desolate Aufenthalt, and his unrelenting Erlkönig, this group is worth hearing too. To make the disc even more attractive, Arthaus Musik has thrown in, as a bonus, the DVD-A version of his much-admired Bayer Chopin recital—which in turn includes its own bonus in the form of a DVD video of a Chopin Waltz.
Production values? The Godowsky segment of the DVD is visually far too busy, the camera constantly moving around (and above) the pianist, as if unable (or unwilling) to let the sound take the forefront. Indeed, a few decisions—like the decision to zoom out during the final climaxes of the two paraphrases—seem precisely to counteract the spirit of the music. All in all, I found that I preferred simply to turn off the screen. The camerawork in the Schubert-Liszt is less fussy, more willing simply to let us watch him play—often with instructive results (being able to focus visually on his hands during Leise flehen, for instance, makes it easier to focus aurally on the music’s imitative counterpoint). The sound on the DVD is stereo only—no match for the superlative surround sound of the Chopin on the DVD-A, but solid enough on its own. All in all, well worth exploring.
Peter J. Rabinowitz, FANFARE
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