Java Suite (1925)
World Premiere Recording
La Flute de Bambou dans la foret de Bandoeng
Le Gamelang de Bali
Esther Budiardjo (piano)
rec 12-13 Aug 1999, New Jersey
Godowsky's Java Suite is a sequence of some substance. Its fourteen movements
play for over fifty minutes. A fabled work among piano fanciers one can easily
appreciate its glamour as a virtuoso showcase. It is however considerably
more than the equivalent of yet another collection of velocity displays.
It is also more than the musical equivalent of a tourist route through an
The work was written in the mid-1920s after the Polish composer's concert
tour of Asia. How easy it would have been for Godowsky to have succumbed
to the low-brow picture postcard pieces peddled by so many composers and
usually pitched at a technical level within the compass of the drawing room
pianist. Godowsky was having none of that. This was no doubt despite the
blandishments of his publishers. What we have instead is a virtuoso Indonesian
sequence rife with the dulcet tintinnabulation of the gamelan. This music
is much more akin to the Eastern experiments of Britten, Koechlin and Hovhaness
than it is to the usually tinpot 'finery' of Ketelbey and a hundred other
purveyors of the tame 'mystic Orient.'
The music is light but not intellectually bankrupt: approachable without
kitsch; affecting without being wince-making. The Wayang-Purwa is
not the only piece to have the air of a John Ireland miniature. Think in
terms of On a May Morning or Amberley Wild Brooks. The grace
personified of Hari Besaar contrasts with the jabbering rhythms and
cheeky humour of Chattering Monkeys at the Sacred Lake of Wendit. The
music is extremely romantic: tangy and virile. The Bromo volcano and Sand
Sea at Daybreak is less threatening than I had expected; instead seeming
to catch the mood of new-minted confidence in the dawn. The rippling bells
of In the Streets of Old Batavia lead on to an evocation of the courtly
lotus-eating vanity of In the Kraton. This will surely appeal to anyone
who appreciates de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain or Symanowski's
Métopes. The crystalline clarity, heat-haze, fountains and
ferns combine in a sultry dream.
Budiardjo (Java-born, currently completing her Doctorate at the New England
Conservatory of Music) is responsive to Godowsky's special world and has
the spree of notes in her sovereign grasp. This applies equally to her
performance of the slightly tougher and more flammable Tansman pieces. A
pity that room could not have been found for the piano solo suites by Friskin.
If the theme is to be continued one could also hope that Budiardjo will go
on to record Josef Holbrooke's Piano Concerto No. 2 'Orient' (1928) the central
movement of which is entitled 'Javanese'.
This is an extremely polished disc featuring works of a lighter complexion
yet with sufficient intellectual fibre to satisfy. Explorers of the oriental
vein in Western music will need to have this delightful disc and I have high
hopes that we will hear from Ms Budiardjo again in related repertoire.
The disc can be ordered from Propiano at