Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Louis Moreau GOTTSCHALK (1829-1869)
Piano Music
1. Le banjo, Fantaisie grotesque, Op.15
2. Bamboula, Danse de nègres, Op.2
3. Le bananier, Chanson nègre, Op.5 *
4. La savane, Ballade créole, Op.3 *
5. Tremolo, Grande étude de concert, Op.58 *
6. La jota aragonesa, Caprice espagnol, Op.14 *
7. Manchega, Étude de concert, Op.38
8. Souvenirs d’Andalousie, Caprice de concert sur la caña, Op.22 *
9. Souvenir de Porto Rico, Marche des Gibaros, Op.31 *
10. L’étincelle, La scintilla, Op.20 *
11. La gallina, Op.53
12. Suis-moi!, Caprice, Op.45
13. Pasquinade, Caprice, Op.59
14. Tournament Galop
15. The Dying Poet, Meditation
16. The Union, Paraphrase de concert on the national airs; Star Spangled Banner, Yankee Doodle, and Hail Columbia, Op.48 *
Cecile Licad (piano)
Recorded at Auditorium de la Banque de Luxembourg, October 1-3, 2001
Recorded Live at Auditorium de la Banque de Luxembourg, October 4, 2001*
NAXOS 8.559145 [75:08]


Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Comparisons: Marks/Nimbus, Martin/Hyperion

Louis Moreau Gottschalk was the first United States piano virtuoso and quite a traveler. His journeys to Europe, the Caribbean, Africa and South America combined with a French flavor derived from his mother’s side and a Creole influence from his New Orleans background ensured a wide variety of compositional styles. In emotional content, most of Gottschalk’s music is upbeat and invigorating. I think it would also be reasonable to state that his music conveys a young and adventurous country hungry for more territory, more respect … more of everything. Although the influences of many international factors are present in Gottschalk’s compositions, the heart of his music is unmistakingly pure ‘Americana’.

I was looking forward to the Cecile Licad program, given that she has made some excellent recordings for CBS/Sony such as her Chopin/Saint-Säens Concertos disc. Little did I know how differently she would play Gottschalk than the European masters.

First impressions are often erroneous, and my initial reaction to Licad was unfavorable. She was like a ‘jumping bean’, sharply darting from one spot to another with minimal grace. Her staccato was too prevalent, and she exuded a harshness that made it difficult to listen to her performances for an extended period. Alan Marks, on Nimbus, was a relief after Licad; his even flow, grace, and charm was very pleasurable.

About two weeks have passed since those first impressions, and I have made a 360-degree turn. What struck me as ‘jumpy’ is now invigorating, and more judicious use of audio controls has eliminated the harsh piano tone. Licad offers us a pulsating set of performances flowing with life’s vital juices. Additional listening to Alan Marks only reveals the limitations of his interpretations. Although they are attractive upon initial hearing, the even-flowing rhythms and charm eventually become routine and uninteresting. Licad is adventurous and daring, while listening to Marks is analogous to relaxing on the back patio and sipping a glass of Southern Comfort. Licad blazes new horizons; Marks simply manages the gains made in the past.

Licad begins her program with "Le banjo", a piece of great exuberance, drive, and virtuosity. Her fast 3-minute performance is exceptionally presented in an improvisatory manner with a conclusion that is spellbinding and displays a complete command of the keyboard. Alan Marks extends the piece to over 4 minutes, obliterating the virtuosity required by the music. Although enjoyable, his reading can’t compete with Licad’s for rhythmic energy and diversity.

"Bamboula" is a three-section work influenced by Gottschalk’s French leanings. The 1st Section is in the form of an energetic and even raucous dance, while the 2nd Section features a lovely melody of sad refrains. The 3rd Section takes us back to high and cheerful energy. Again, Licad drives the music expertly and also conveys all the poignancy of the 2nd Section.

"La Savane" will be familiar to listeners from its similarity to "Skip to my Lou", although Gottschalk offers the music in ballad form. Licad gives a sparkling performance without ever neglecting the nostalgic and mysterious elements that Gottschalk brings into the score.

For exciting music of the perpetual motion variety, Licad’s performance of "Tremolo" is essential listening. The piece was one of Gottschalk’s last compositions and requires that alternate hands play repeated quaver notes. Gottschalk first performed the work in March of 1868 in Buenos Aires, and audiences were thrilled by its impact. Licad would have also thrilled the audiences with her very quick 4-minute performance that shows tremendous strength, concentration and energy; hers is virtuosity at peak levels. In contrast, Philip Martin in his Gottschalk/Hyperion series extends the music to 6 minutes and ends up trotting through the piece without ever creating any sense of thrill or virtuosity. Martin takes the ‘easy way out’ as if he isn’t up to a more challenging presentation.

Tracks 6 thru 8 are Spanish-inspired pieces. Licad beautifully captures the Spanish rhythmic snap of "La jota aragonesa", the driving energy of "Manchega", and the pulsating sexuality of the fandango theme in "Souvenirs d’Andalousie". She always displays great rhythmic bounce and the inherent exuberance of these delightful Spanish-related works.

"La scintilla" is a lovely mazurka that flows like silk and will recall the mazurkas of Chopin. Licad’s reading is very warm and comforting as she eschews her generally sharp approach to Gottschalk. This tells me that she makes adjustments when appropriate; one of the signs of an exceptional performing artist.

Licad’s adjustment from sharpness to warmth continues in "The Dying Poet" which was the most popular piece of music during the Civil War and for many years thereafter. The music is lovingly soft and of lullaby proportion. During the days of silent film, it was often used to accompany a deathbed scene. The Licad program concludes with Gottschalk’s patriotic "The Union" which contains a variety of styles ranging from turbulence to sublime tenderness.

In my readings on Gottschalk, he is often referred to as a minor figure in the world of classical music. This tag likely reflects the salon-type nature of his music and the fact that he never attempted to delve into the core of human thought. However, I tend to feel that Gottschalk transcends the classical music category in that he offered the listening public vivacious music fully in keeping with America’s quest for greatness. In this regard, he is quite similar to John Philip Sousa whose wind band music also rose above any particular musical category. Both composers will indefinitely remain as sterling examples of the American experience, and we are greatly indebted to them.

As for Cecile Licad, she is now my standard for future Gottschalk piano recordings. Her exuberance and rhythmic vitality places her in an exalted position. Other pianists including Alan Marks and Philip Martin present Gottschalk’s music in a more sedentary and mature manner. They are enjoyable but missing the crucial elements of adventure and discovery. Licad’s program is also a winning one, well mixing the excitement and poignancy of Gottschalk’s compositions.

In summary, I heartily recommend Cecile Licad’s Gottschalk recording. From a purely musical perspective, none of his works are essential listening, but anyone wanting to gain insight into the national psychology of the United States in its first hundred years of existence will be highly rewarded.

Don Satz



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