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Louis Moreau GOTTSCHALK (1829–1869)
Complete Works for Orchestra
1. Symphonie No. 2, ‘A Montevideo’, RO257 (1868/1869) [11:13];
2. Célèbre Tarantelle pour piano et orchestre, RO259 (1868) [6:07];
3. Escenas Campestres Cubanas, Opéra en 1 acte, RO77 (1859/1860) [13:23]
4. Variations de concert sur l’hymne portugais du Roi Louis I, RO289 (1869) [12:32];
5. Ave Maria, RO10 (c.1864) [5:56];
6. La Casa del Joven Enrique por Méhul, Gran overture, RO54b (1861) [11:07]
7. Symphonie romantique, ‘La nuit des tropiques’ (A Night in The Tropics), RO255 (1859) [16:14]
Michael Gurt (piano) (2, 4), Melissa Barrick (soprano) (5), Anna Noggle (soprano), Darryl Taylor (tenor), Richard Ziebarth (bass-baritone) (3), John Contiguglia, Richard Contiguglia, Angela Draghicescu, Chin-Ming Lin, Joshua pepper (piano) (6); Hot Spring Festival Symphony Orchestra/Richard Rosenberg
rec. Hot Springs Youth Center, Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, USA, 7, 11-12, 14-15 June 2006, except ‘A Night in the Tropics’: Horner Hall, Hot Springs Civic and Convention Center, 3–12 June 1999
NAXOS 8.559320 [76:56]

 


‘The Chopin of the Creoles’ was his soubriquet, at least among his friends in New Orleans. S. Frederick Starr, leading authority on Louis Moreau Gottschalk, also dubs him ‘the Crescent City’s Schubert’, due to his double capacity of writing superbly well for both the piano and the human voice. Whichever predecessor one chooses – he actually studied with Chopin – the comparison could be brought a step further in that he never reached similar heights as a composer for orchestra. There are a handful of Schubert symphonies that are among the most played in the whole symphonic repertoire, but not until the great C major symphony did he produce a really great orchestral work. This is a strictly personal point of view, I love the ‘Unfinished’ and the fifth and the C minor and … - so don’t start writing complaints to our Bulletin Board.

Returning to Gottschalk I have been fond of his piano music ever since I stumbled over an LP with Leonard Pennario ages ago in a record sale. Fresh, rhythmic and melodically appealing I felt that here was someone who pointed forward two or three generations. Ernesto Lecuona, to pick another composer I like, owes a lot to Gottschalk. Later I bought a double CD with Eugene List, which included a couple of orchestral pieces, the Tarantelle and A Night in the Tropics. I found the latter attractive: the first movement growing from a mysterious nightly atmosphere to a climax of colours and then back to the gossamer light nocturnal mood. The second movement’s samba rhythms are stirring. The Tarantelle I have always found rather monotonous. There is no real development, just a long ostinato.

On the present disc Gottschalk’s manuscripts have been painstakingly reconstructed by Richard Rosenberg. The liner notes by Mr Starr as well as Rosenberg’s own commentaries to the individual pieces make for fascinating reading and I do admire the devotion and the stamina to carry through such work.

About the compositions I am less convinced. Gottschalk might have become a great composer, had he only been able to settle down and work under orderly conditions. However, his life was spent in hectically travelling and giving concerts. It is a marvel that he found the time to write music down at all. It may be that his life style is also mirrored in his music. It is hectic, pompous, not to say bombastic and there is that repetitiveness that begins to jar after a while. Was Gottschalk an early minimalist?

Of the music here, besides the two works I have already mentioned, the Symphony No. 2 is among the best with a majestic second half of the second movement – but maybe it’s really too much of a good thing.

He wrote several operas but they seem to have been lost, apart from Escenas Campestres Cubanas, which consists of four numbers, of which the opening dance is repeated at the end. In between there is a fairly long scene for three soloists – again with that minimalist repetition. The soloists are good and the soprano needs the range and virtuoso of a Queen of the Night. She also has a short, catchy aria all by herself, where she displays some edginess. The texts are printed in the booklet as well as English translations.

The Variations de concert sandwiches pompous orchestra and virtuoso piano, but there is a lyric-romantic section in the middle of the piece, which redeems some of the emptiness.

Ave Maria, arranged for voice and orchestra by Richard Rosenberg, is a beautiful song that I wish other singers would add to their repertoire. It is sung here with disarming simplicity and a vibrato-less tone that made me wonder if it was a boy treble. But the singer is Melissa Berrick, an artist at home in baroque as well as contemporary music.

La Casa del Joven Enrique (Young Henry’s Hunt) is based on Méhul’s overture. It was recast from an older composition for a ‘monster concert’ in Havana. It was never completed and never performed – due to the abnormal forces required, no doubt: Gottschalk wanted forty pianists plus a gigantic orchestra. In practice though there are only five separate piano parts. When it was first performed – the manuscript was not found until 2003 – the orchestra numbered ‘only’ 112 players – as on this recording which was made just days later. The hunt of the title is clearly depicted and there are repeated brass signals, lending a martial atmosphere to the piece.

My reception of the disc may seem lukewarm, but I and hopefully the rest of the musical world have reasons to be immensely grateful to Richard Rosenberg and his enthusiastic musicians for bringing into the sunshine something as close as possible to what Gottschalk had in mind when he wrote the music.

Göran Forsling

see also Review by Dan Morgan

 

 

 


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