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Customer Review

on 29 November 2005
Godowsky’s set of Studies are frequently criticised as a profanation of the Chopin originals, themselves considered by many a near perfect synthesis of pragmatism and poetry. We should not dwell on this argument here; there have been greater crimes against than these (William Orbit’s ‘Pieces in a Modern Style’ and Hans Wurman’s ‘The Moog Strikes Bach’ spring to mind). Suffice it to say that if you are indignant toward the idea of augmented transcriptions of this type, you will not enjoy this, or any, recording of Godowsky.
The more open-minded listener will find these pieces fascinating, aside from the formidable technical demands they place on the performer (tackled here with consummate ease by Berezovsky—it will leave you scratching your head and wondering how it can be possible) the compositions themselves are masterpieces of complexity; some etudes are transposed for the left hand alone, seeming to loose nothing of the harmonic texture or detail of the original; some are rendered in a different style (the Op.25 No.5 becomes a completely convincing and entertaining Mazurka); some represent an exceptional audacity by superimposing two etudes together, a concept that sounds dreadful in theory, but somehow works to wonderful effect in practice.
The unexpended gem on this collection is the inclusion of a transcription of the ‘Minute’ Waltz, presumably as an encore to this live set (you can even hear someone drop their programme half way through). It admirably sums up Godowsky’s Chopin project in microcosm, where this familiar piece builds in to a subtle overlaying of different variations on the theme, taking on an almost fugal nature. The Chopin melody shines through the filigree detail, creating something new while informing the gracefulness of the original.
To my mind, the main failing of this disc is, regrettably, its main selling point: that the Chopin originals appear alongside the Godowsky equivalents. It has obvious didactic benefits allowing for an easy comparison between the works, but it will irritate anyone familiar with the Chopin etudes, who would prefer that the space given over to the originals was used instead to showcase more of Berezovsky’s renditions of Godowsky. Perhaps this editorial decision was made to set the disc apart from Marc-André Hamelin’s superlative ‘The Complete Studies on Chopin's Etudes’ for Hyperion, which sets a new benchmark for Godowsky recordings; it is to Hamelin’s two disc set that I would direct anyone wishing to investigate this work further.
Performances of virtuosic piano compositions often fall in to the same trap: they are a good deal more enjoyable to watch than they are to listen to. Not so in this case, where Berezovsky masterfully demonstrates that there is more to these Studies than transcendental technique; there is poetry (not just Chopin’s), playfulness; wit even. It is a well-chosen selection of Godowsky’s transcriptions, executed with feeling, and while it will not convert his detractors, is never-the-less a pleasure to hear.
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