Rian de Waal

Piano Music by Leopold Godowsky

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One thing virtuoso pianist Leopold Godowsky was renowned for was taking other composers' works and transforming them in ways that seem to go even further than Liszt's "transcriptions" of famous works. The results sometimes sound like truly fantasic flights of fancy with an overabundance of detail and gilding that make the original works seem like plain, old melody and accompaniment by comparison. Not only does Godowsky take apart melodies and re-assemble them in new ways, he also adds all kinds of new counterpoint, countermelodies, and harmonies. His music is also known for being devilishly tricky to play. However, Rian de Waal seems perfectly at ease with it in this program devoted to Godowsky's arrangements. The disc opens with a monumental set of variations on just the first eight bars of Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony. At several points, the music becomes so dense it's hard to believe it's just one pianist performing. Godowsky didn't add nearly as much to the other Schubert works in this program, but what he did add reinforces and intensifies the mood of each piece. The Moment Musical No. 3 becomes more slyly capricious than Schubert's original. Strauss' Artist's Life Waltz takes on more of the artist's temperamental humors. The difference between Godowsky's versions of the two waltzes, Weber's Invitation to the Dance and the Strauss, and the originals are like the difference between a professional ballroom dancing couple and a couple out for a night of dancing. There are greater complexities and fancier footwork -- or in this case, finger-work -- but the same memorable tunes and flowing movement. The program ends quietly with Godowsky's own Alt-Wien, that sentimental ode to Vienna that pales in comparison with what has gone before, but still works as a finale because of its familiarity of the tune and Godowsky's filigree writing, set off by the warm glow of the recording's sound. De Waal never sounds like he's having to work to successfully handle whatever Godowsky's music throws him. He does sound like he is fully absorbed in it, fascinated by all its intricacies, and yet having a good time and making it completely musical, enjoyable, and fascinating to the listener as well.

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