May  2001

Leopold Godowsky - Java Suite
Pro Piano Records PPR224529
Released: 2000

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]It's a classical-music reviewer’s nightmare -- a world premiere recording on an unfamiliar label. To what do I compare it? How can I tell if it is really a good performance? What standards should I use to judge it? Oh the pain, the pain -- the writer's block! But I must needs put my problems behind me, gentle reader, and press on. Inquiring minds want to know.

Pro Piano Records is a new label to me, but a quick perusal of their website revealed that they have released quite a number of recordings (all solo piano -- big surprise, huh?) over the last few years. All of their discs have been recorded to the highest standards of the day; most are 20-bit, although the most recent are 24-bit.

Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938), a Polish-born pianist and composer, was considered a piano prodigy from an early age. He claimed that he had no teacher that he could remember, although he did spend time with Camille Saint-SaŽns discussing theory. He wrote prolifically throughout his life, mostly for the piano. His Java Suite for solo piano, written in 1920, consists of 12 pieces, in four parts, and commemorates his impressions and feelings from his journey to Indonesia. This suite has never, until now, been recorded in its entirety.

Esther Budiardjo, the performer on this disc, comes from Indonesia. She is currently completing her doctorate at the New England Conservatory of Music and has been performing publicly since 1993. This is her second disc for Pro Piano (she previously did an all-Mendelssohn album).

I found this an exceptional musical performance. Ms. Budiardjo has both the talent and the feel for this music and that allows her to bring it to life. The music manifests an exotic quality that Ms. Budiardjo’s pianistic skill only enhances. Yet that same exotic quality made the music seem a bit elusive to my Western ears.

This disc features two additional world premieres, of pieces dedicated to Java by Alexandre Tansman. While these are good, Godowsky’s Java Suite is the draw here. The Tansman compositions merely help to fill the disc out nicely with similar music.

The recorded sound is the equal of the music, which is to say exceptional. Pro Piano calls their recordings PPR for "pianist's perspective recordings," and it sure sounds like it. You get the feeling you’re looking over Ms. Budiandjo’s shoulder, with the piano spread out from the left speaker to just inside the right. The impression of the sound emanating upward and out to the right, off the piano’s soundboard, fills the remainder of the soundstage. You can follow her fingers as they fly over the keyboard, and hear the hammers as they strike the individual stings. Tonally, this recording offers spot-on piano sound. Combine that with dynamics that swing from very soft to loud, and, well, you get a real feeling of having a piano in your listening room. No, it’s not perfect, but it comes as close as I’ve ever heard.

After listening to this disc a number of times, I found all the answers to my questions. And looky here, no more writer’s block! This was actually an easy review to write -- I found this disc to be most enjoyable. Both Pro Piano Records and Ms. Budiandjo have created a world-class world premiere recording of a work that deserves a much wider audience. When you combine excellent sonics with superb playing and quality music, a high recommendation comes easily.