American pianist Ivan Ilić has recorded his second CD for the French label Paraty, entitled "22 Chopin Studies" by Leopold Godowsky.
Godowsky was a celebrity in his day: Artur Rubinstein said that "it would take him 500 years" to acquire Godowsky's technique. Rachmaninoff wrote that "Godowsky is the only musician of this age who has given a real, lasting contribution to the development of the piano".
But following Godowsky's death in 1938, his compositions were largely ignored until the year 2000, when super-virtuoso pianists such as Marc-André Hamelin and Boris Berezovsky began to record and perform his works in concert.
Ivan Ilić is the latest pianist to rise to the formidable challenge. His album focuses on the 22 Studies for the left hand alone, considered among the most difficult pieces ever written for the instrument.
But there is a poetry in Ilić's interpretations which makes one forget the difficulty, and allows the listener to bask in Godowsky's rich, dark re-working of Chopin's masterpieces.
The CD is a tour de force of virtuosity and musicianship.
Léopold Godowsky was among the most famous performers of his generation, and his technical facility was considered to be unequaled among his peers. As a result, his motives for writing the études are frequently misunderstood: many listeners mistakenly see these pieces as musical vehicles for showing off. However, there is an overwhelming amount of documentation that suggests that Godowsky was not a showman but a perfectionist who created these works for his own self-improvement.
The most convincing evidence for Godowsky's altruistic, laudable motives is the music itself: its refinement of detail, reminiscent of the writing of Johannes Brahms on the page, is the work of a patient and exacting master. Just as Godowsky's performing and teaching aesthetics were unequivocally Apollonian, the most effective interpretations of his works are sober and elegant, eschewing all excess and bombast.
This video was filmed by Patrick Noël and Jean-Marie Laugery in Ferbruary 2011 using two Canon 5D Mark II cameras. The venue is the Quatravaux Mansion in the South West of France. Many thanks to the Quatravaux family for their generous support. Additional thanks to co-producer Keir Smart of Pollok House Arts Society in Glasgow and Luc Plissonneau.