Reviews

Alain Steffen, Pizzicato

Kraftvoll und dynamisch, spannend und mitreißend, so kommen diese Godowski-Stücke in der Wiedergabe des polnischen Pianisten Lukasz Kwiatkowski daher. Ob Bearbeitungen oder Godowskis eigene Werke, hier wird konsequent und lustvoll gespielt, Kwiatkowski macht sich eine Freude daraus, den Hörer auf eine unterhaltsame und technisch virtuose Reise mitzunehmen. Es wird wenig hinterfragt oder gar interpretiert, doch viel geboten von einem hervorragenden Pianisten, der aus dem Vollen schöpft und die Musik als das annimmt und wiedergibt, was sie in Wirklichkeit ist: Brillant komponierte resp. arrangierte Werke eines wirklichen Meisters seines Fachs.
Brilliant and virtuoso performances of arrangements and own works by Leopold Godowski.

https://www.pizzicato.lu/brillant-komponiert-und-gespielt/


Huntley Dent, Fanfare Magazine

The highly accomplished Polish pianist Łukasz Kwiatkowski is doubly fortunate to both write books about a famous Golden Age pianist and also to play his devilishly difficult works with panache. The program notes come from a book in manuscript by Kwiatkowski, who was born in Łódź in 1981, studied there to the doctorate level, and now teaches at his home university. Previously, in his 2014 debut on Dux, the program consisted of Bach transcriptions by Busoni, on whom Kwiatkowski also wrote a book. Since the artist’s bio mentions a Bachelor of Science degree and a government prize for Outstanding Young Scientist as well, we’re dealing with a formidable talent. It takes more than talent, however, to present sympathetically Leopold Godowsky’s densely elaborated transcriptions of great composers, which feature embellishments on the order of Liszt’s Transcendental Études and a taste for overlapping contrapuntal devices that even Liszt doesn’t approach. By skillfully arranging his program and showing as many facets of Godowsky’s imagination as possible, Kwiatkowski allows us to penetrate beyond the veil of cascading notes that populates all the pieces here. As a result, it is possible for the listener’s ear to remain engaged from beginning to end, no small feat. Like Busoni and Liszt, Godowsky was drawn to transcribe Bach according to the taste for Romantic virtuosity. He elaborates on Bach’s counterpoint and harmony in the Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Minor with a freedom that purists will shun and which previous generations greeted with astonishment (if you were a Golden Age pianophile) or disdain (everybody else). The program notes mention that the Bach transcriptions by Liszt and Busoni are more frequently played and better known—with few exceptions, Godowsky’s compositional output of over 200 works is rarely explored by pianists today—but his versions are just as worthy. I tend to agree in this case, because Godowsky communicates his respect and adoration of Bach, and the sonata’s underlying purity, strangely enough, is preserved. As a young man Godowsky met and was championed in Paris by Saint-Saëns, who is also mentioned as one of two formal piano teachers he had; otherwise, Godowsky developed his own keyboard technique himself. As a tribute, “Le cygne” from The Carnival of the Animals is perhaps too rich for the simple melody being decorated, but we must accept the genre Godowsky was working in. (...) In his own mind, both as a performer and noted teacher, Godowsky thought that he was extending and deepening the keyboard technique of Chopin and Liszt. This is reflected in his 63 studies on Chopin’s études. Here we get two examples that out-Herod Herod. As per the album notation, I’ve credited these compositions to Godowsky alone, but the underlying études are Chopin’s op. 10/5 and 6. The first is the “Black Keys” Étude, where Godowsky reverses the hands from the original, putting the passagework in the left hand and the chords in the right. Absolutely astounding, however, is his transcription for the left hand of the other étude. As much as he explained his Chopin studies as being done for pedagogical purposes, this particular tour de force is jaw-dropping.Two other pieces belong in the category of “I can’t help myself,” in that the pianistic elaborations are unbridled, some might say on the verge of unhinged. The first is a vastly entertaining and ingenious “symphonic metamorphosis” on Johann Strauss II’s Wine, Women, and Song, the second a fantasy version, all fingers blazing, of Chopin’s “Minute” Waltz (which I didn’t realize is called in French “waltz of the little dog”). A third piece by Godowsky is an elegy for the left hand that consists of constantly running eighth notes with occasional chords and accents to indicate the melody. Although not as flashy as the Chopin study for the left hand, it must be quite challenging technically, which goes more or less without saying. The program ends on a tour de force that is equally fascinating as a composition, Godowsky’s Passacaglia from 1927, which he recognized as one of his major achievements. He takes the opening cello-and-bass melody of Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony and composes 44 variations on it, ending in a flourishing cadenza and four-minute fugue. In keeping with the passacaglia form, the theme is repeated constantly, sometimes as accompaniment or ground bass, sometimes switching to the right hand or bouncing between the two hands. To fit this many variations into 17 minutes, each variation is stated only once and blends seamlessly into the next, a remarkable accomplishment. For anyone who considers Godowsky merely a keyboard wizard, this work is an eye-opener, although it also includes its share of technical hurdles. I’ve saved for last Kwiatkowski’s execution, but it is all that it should be. He not only possesses very impressive technique, but he relaxes into the music, hiding the effort required to play all the notes. We become totally involved through the pianist’s personal communication—this is necessary if a performer wants to make Godowsky’s virtuoso style transcend itself. The recorded piano sound is full and realistic, the program notes informatively sketch in each piece. All told, this release shapes up to be one of the most enjoyable and impressive piano recitals of the year.


This new release is an exciting recital from award-winning pianist Lukasz Kwiatkowski that features compositions from J.S. Bach, Camille Saint-Saens, Fryderyk Chopin, and Leopold Godowski. Godowski’s works are the cornerstone of the album. The American-Polish composer and pianist wrote more than 200 piano pieces. While many pianists are reluctant to play Godowsky’s works due to significant difficulties in their learning process and performing them from memory, Lukasz Kwiatkowski rises to the occasion. Lukasz Kwiatkowski graduated with honors from the Henryk Wieniawski State Primary Music School and the Secondary Music School in Lodz, and later graduated with honors from the Grazyna and Kiejstut Bacewicz Academy of Music in Lodz. Currently, he is an assistant professor at the Department of Piano at his home University. In addition to teaching, he has a busy concert schedule, and has won numerous awards including at the Kiejstut Bacewicz International Inter-University Chamber Music Competition, the Concerto Trials Final in Cardiff, and the International Chamber Competition in Val Tidonne.

https://naxosdirect.com/items/godowski-449807


 

Jerry Dubins, Fanfare Magazine

 

LEOPOLD GODOWSKY ORIGINAL WORKS AND ARRANGMENTS —Łukasz Kwiatkowski (pn) —DUX 1464 (55:26)

BACH Unaccompanied Violin Sonata in g, BWV 1001. SAINT-SAËNS Carnival of the Animals: The Swan. GODOWSKY Symphonic Metamorphoses No. 3 on Themes of Johann Strauss, Jr.: Wein, Weib und Gesang.Elegy for the Left Hand Alone, Studies on Chopin’s Etudes: No. 7 in GI (first versionafter Etude in GI, op. 10/5; No. 13 in eIfor the Left Hand Alone, after Etude in eI, op. 10/6. Passacaglia. CHOPIN/GODOWSKYWaltz in DI, op. 64/1

“I would be very glad could I have stated with truth that I was a pupil of [Franz] Liszt or any other great man, but I was not. I have not had three months lessons in my life. I have been told I was playing the piano before I was two. I think, however, an imaginative family perpetrated this story. I cannot vouch for the truth one way or the other. I have had some extraordinary experience, and this may have happened. I do not remember whether anybody taught me the value and meaning of notes and the use of the fingers of the keyboard, or whether I acquired my knowledge in an autodidactic way, but I do remember that I had no help from my fifth year on.”

So wrote Leopold Godowsky (1870–1938) in his fragment of an autobiography, titled Retrospect. Born in a small town outside Vilnius in Lithuania (then Russian Poland), Godowsky may well be “the most astonishing instance of a self-taught performer and creator in the history of art,” that according to The International Master Institute of Music “Leopold Godowsky,” Inc. His near contemporary, Ferruccio Busoni, claimed rather immodestly that “he [Busoni] and Godowsky were the only composers to have added anything of significance to keyboard writing since Franz Liszt.”

Godowsky made his first appearance in the U.S. as early as 1884 at the age of 14 in Boston, continuing his American tour in New York, the northeastern states, and Canada during 1885–86. He briefly returned to Europe in 1887 to perform in London and Paris, where, in the latter city, he met and became a friend and protégé of Saint-Saëns. But the New World beckoned, and in 1891, Godowsky settled in the U.S., beginning a pedagogical career that would take him from the New York College of Music, to the Gilbert Reynolds Comb’s Broad Street Conservatory in Philadelphia, and eventually to the Chicago Conservatory, where he remained until the turn of the century.

From that point on—at least up until the outbreak of World War I—Godowsky split his time between the U.S. and Europe, and his activities between concertizing and teaching. The war forced him back to the U.S., where, for some reason, he became a bit of an itinerant, moving from New York, to Los Angeles, to Seattle, and finally back to New York. Beginning in the 1920s, Godowsky made a number of piano rolls for Duo-Art and American Piano, two companies putting out rolls for reproducing pianos.

By the late 1920s, Godowsky had suffered a number of setbacks in his personal life and finances. His son, Gordon, ran off with a stripper, causing Godowsky to disown him, and he took a big hit in the stock market crash of ’29. Then, during a recording session on June 17, 1930, he suffered a stroke, leaving him partially paralyzed, and ending his public career as a performer.

Sadly, Godowsky’s trials and tribulations were not over. In 1932, Gordon—the one who ran off with the stripper—committed suicide. Godowsky’s wife, Friede, died of a heart attack a year later. Godowsky died in New York of stomach cancer on November 21, 1938. A couple of interesting factoids I learned in my reading of this Godowsky synopsis were that his surviving son, Leopold, Jr., was the co-inventor, along with Leopold Mannes, of Kodachrome photo transparency film, and that Leopold, Jr. married George Gershwin’s younger sister, Frances.

Godowsky was regarded by many peers and critics as possibly possessing the most formidable keyboard technique of any pianist in history; yet his technique was not developed along lines of conventional practice. Being mainly self-taught, he devised and later propagated his own theories of “relaxed weight” and “economy of motion,” techniques that were tailored to his own unique approach, but not necessarily a fit for others. As a result, for all of Godowsky’s devotion to teaching, one is hard-pressed to name a single one of his students who went on to achieve stardom.

As a composer, Godowsky was not only quite prolific, but claims by some sources to the contrary, he did, in fact, write a considerable number of original works, one of which, the Passacaglia, concludes the present recital, and is quite renowned for its terrifying difficulty. Consisting of 44 variations, a cadenza, and fugue, based on the opening theme of Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony, it was declared unplayable by one of the lions of the keyboard, none other than Vladimir Horowitz himself. I guess that Ian Hobson, Marc-André Hamelin, andŁukasz Kwiatkowski on this new release, for three, didn’t heed Horowitz’s warning.

It is true, though, that Godowsky’s main claim to posthumous memorability lies not in his original compositions but in his hundreds of arrangements, transcriptions, and paraphrases of the works of other composers. Most famous perhaps within this field of endeavor is his 53 Studies on Chopin’s Etudes, composed between 1894 and 1914. From those Studies, Kwiatkowski gives us two of them, No. 7 in GIMajor (No. 5 in Chopin’s original series of Etudes), and No. 13 in EIMinor (No. 6 in Chopin’s sequence), which Godowsky has written to be played by the left hand alone. And that is by no means the extent of Godowsky’s post-Liszt emporium of technical horrors in his Studies. He transfers already frightfully difficult passages from the right hand to the left, and transcribes an entire piece for left hand solo, as we’ve already seen in the EIMinor Study. But perhaps most spiteful to both the player and Chopin, he combines two of the original Etudes together, with the right hand playing one and the left hand playing the other simultaneously.

Based on this description, one would be inclined to believe that Godowsky’s harmonic language and musical vocabulary in general took on some of the modernistic and experimental aspects of Busoni’s works. In truth, however, although Godowski may have rewritten the book on what was pianistically possible—his technical novelties are said to have influenced Ravel and Prokofiev—his style remained of an essentially conservative bent, strongly rooted in the works of Bach and the great 19th-century masters.

And that is the first thing that strikes the ear in this recital of Godowsky pieces by Polish pianist Łukasz Kwiatkowski. Yes, the virtuosic pyrotechnics are thrilling and more often than not hair-raising, but what comes across foremost for me in these pieces, and in Kwiatkowski’s playing of them, is the sheer Romantic beauty of the music.

I must admit that I never heard the opening bars of Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony as a passacaglia theme, but opening up the score, I see now that that’s exactly what it is—an eight-bar descending progression that lends itself perfectly to variations treatment. I wonder if that had some special significance for Schubert, or if it was simply inadvertent. In any case, what Godowsky makes of it is something quite incredible. His Passacaglia alone is worth the price of the disc.

If you Google Łukasz Kwiatkowski, the first hit you get is likely to be that for the retired Polish professional track cyclist of the same name. But if you add the word “pianist” to your search, you’ll discover that the Łukasz Kwiatkowski of this DUX CD was born in Lodz in 1981, graduated from the Academy of Music in Lodz, earned his Master’s degree there in  2005, and his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in 2013. Currently, he is the assistant professor at the Department of Piano at the Academy of Music in Lodz. From this one would think that he never left home, but in 2003-2004, he obtained a scholarship to study at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff.

Kwiatkowski has won a number of prizes and placed with honors and distinction in a number of important competitions. He is a;sp author of the book, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Music in the Piano Works of Ferruccio Busoni,” published by Polihymnia, Lublin, 2013, and his solo album, “Bach Busoni,” was released on DUX in 2014.

Whether any of Kwiatkowski’s curriculum vitae matters to you or not, what should matter is the music on this disc and his playing of it. Both are in the terrific, phenomenal category. Urgently recommended. 


Luc Boentges, 100komma7 Radio

"...E Pianist deen zwou Komponisteséile vereent(...) Op där enger Säit gëtt de Łukasz Kwiatkowski alle pianisteschen Ufuerderunge gerecht, déi de Leopold Godowski fir d'Interpretatioun vu senge Wierker viraussetzt. Op där anerer Säit héiert een nieft dëser romantescher Virtuositéit och eraus, datt sech de Łukasz Kwiatkowski un der historescher Opféierungspraxis inspiréiert huet. Besonnesch däitlech mierkt een dat un der Aart a Weis, wéi hie phraséiert, wéi eng Bedeitung hien deene verschiddene Stëmme gëtt a wéi ee Gewiicht hien op d'Virhalte leet.(...) Vun der Romantik an d'Romantik (...) E bësse méi einfach ass dësen Exercice vläicht beim Godowski senger Versioun vum Frédéric Chopin senger Walz Opus 64, Nummer 1. Duerch déi zäitlech kleng Distanz tëschent den zwee Komponisten leien d'Tounsprooche vill méi no beieneen, an den Pianist brauch kee Spagat tëschent zwee Joerhonnerte maachen. Och hei iwwerzeegt de Łukasz Kwiatkowski. Bei der Interpretatioun leet hie vill wäert op d'Linn vun der Melodie an op d'Agogik".

https://www.100komma7.lu/article/musek/eng-cd-voller-virtuositeit


Bach Busoni CD review

"Busoni was born in Italy but was German in his cultural affiliations. This was partly because his father ensured that he was brought up to play Bach, who ever after remained a key part of his repertory as a virtuoso pianist and greatly influenced his compositional style. In this enterprising issue we have three Bach-inspired works: a virtuoso transcription which reworks a solo violin work in a late Romantic pianistic idiom, a meditative work which draws on Bach but is characteristically Busoni, and finally the great Fantasia Contrappuntistica, of which more anon. Kwiatkowski is a scholar as well as a pianist and has written a book (in Polish) on Busoni’s use of Bach so he is well placed to perform this programme. 

In his earlier years Busoni made a great number of transcriptions of Bach’s organ music and developed a characteristic technique for doing so. He had to find ways of compensating for the lack of a pedal keyboard, for the piano’s inability to sustain notes at length and for the lack of the colours provided by different organ stops. When he came to transcribe the chaconne from Bach’s second partita he drew on all the skills he had developed in his organ transcriptions as well as on Bach’s own transcription for organ of his violin fugue in G minor. The result is a work completely re-imagined with full chords, elaborate bass lines, octave doublings and all the techniques of Romantic piano music. There is also a great variety of texture: some of it is massive but by no means all. Kwiatkowski plays it with great clarity, considerable rhythmic freedom and also delicacy where required. Authenticity in a work like this has to be authenticity to the idiom of the transcriber, not the original work, so his freedom is entirely justified. 

The Fantasia after Bach draws on three Bach chorales, chiefly “Christ, der du bist der helle Tag” (BWV 766). Busoni wrote this work after the death of his father, with whom he had had a difficult relationship. Over the last few bars are the words PAX EI! (peace be to him). The Bach works feature three repeated notes, a motif Busoni had also used in his second violin sonata as a death motif and which evoke bell sounds. In Kwiatkowski’s performance they ring out clearly through the sometimes complex textures. His performance is rather measured: Roland Pöntinen’s is slightly faster and Marc-André Hamelin’s is perhaps subtler but Kwiatkowski’s is beautiful in its own terms. 

The Fantasia Contrappuntistica grew out of work on a projected edition of Bach’s Art of Fugue, which Busoni in fact never completed. He became absorbed by the problem of completing Bach’s last, unfinished fugue, which develops three themes at great length but breaks off before introducing the motto theme of the whole work which appears in all the other fugues. Nottebohm was perhaps the first to suggest a solution, but Busoni was inspired by an organist and theorist Bernhard Ziehn together with his pupil Wilhelm Middelschulte. This was while Busoni was in Chicago in the course of a tour in 1910. He first worked out his solution in a privately printed work entitled Grosse Fugue. This incorporates Bach’s fragment with its three fugues, not as it stands but with cuts, trills, chromatic alterations and occasional octave doublings. He then inserted an Intermezzo with three variations on the Bach themes. There is then a Cadenza before the final Fugue IV which introduces the quadruple combination and also other material from elsewhere in the Art of Fugue before leading to a final Stretto. He described it as something between César Franck, of the Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, and the Hammerklavier sonata, and it is enormously demanding on the pianist and quite a challenge for the listener too.

Later that same year he reworked it with an introductory Prelude, based on the chorale prelude “Meine Seele bangt und hofft zu dir” as used in his own third Elegy for piano. There are further revisions to Bach’s original with a unfortunate cut to the Fugue IV; the cut passage is printed as an Addendum at the end, which means it is hardly ever played. This is the so-called edizione definitiva, but in fact Busoni was to go on to make two more versions: the edizione minore of 1912 has a new prelude and omits the extra material to present a simple version of Fugue IV; and the version for two pianos of 1922, which combines both the previous preludes, has further cuts and modifications and an improved ending. Busoni also projected an orchestral version but did not make one; several others have subsequently done so. He also intended to make a new solo piano version. Although he did not live to do so, the pianist and Busoni scholar Larry Sitsky, whose book on Busoni’s piano music I have drawn on, demonstrated exactly how this could be done and I hope that one day some pianist will record what we might perhaps call an edizione espansiva. In any version this was the largest piano work of the twentieth century in the German tradition until Hindemith’s Ludus Tonalis, which indeed is somewhat indebted to it.

Few pianists, even among Busoni specialists, attempt this work. Even Pöntinen and Hamelin, who have recorded much of his music, have so far avoided it. So we should be grateful to Kwiatkowski who plays it with admirable clarity, laying out the complicated structure and not getting fazed in the thorniest passages. He plays the edizione definitiva exactly as it stands, so without the Addendum reinserted. Among the recordings I know, only John Ogdon reinstates it. Ogdon also imports the improved ending from the two-piano version, so his recording is valuable for these points as well as for his exciting performance, in which he gets carried away in places. Hamish Milne is more recent, more massive and better recorded than Ogdon. Kwiatkowski’s recording quality is outstanding: the piano is slightly more forward than in most piano recordings but is superbly resonant and the bass is excellent..." 

Stephen Barber

Classical music reviews, Musicweb-international

www.musicweb-international.com


CD review Bach Busoni 

"...His interpretations are well thought out, well-balanced and incredibly virtuosic. One can hear that the pianist knows not only the nature of the works, but also their composer. He made, that although the CD is dedicated to Busoni, I actually discovered anew the both composers..." (LB)

Presto Music Magazine (Magazyn Muzyczny Presto)

number (9) 2-3/2014