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Louis Moreau GOTTSCHALK (1829-1869)
Piano Music: Volume 8

Home, Sweet Home (Bishop) RO117 (1862) Op 51 [6'48]
Chant de guerre RO48 (1859) Op 78 [5'06]
Pensive - polka-redowa RO196 (1864) Op 68 [4'16]
Le chant du martyr - grand caprice religieux RO49 (1859) [7'41]
Ses yeux - polka de concert RO235 (1872) Op 66, arr. Napoleão [6'19]
Pastorella e Cavalliere RO190 (1859) Op 32 [7'42]
Radieuse - grande valse de concert RO218 (Op 72), arr. Maylath [5'37]
Dernier amour - étude de concert RO73 (1868) Op 63 [6'41]
Variations de concert sur l’hymne portugais RO290 (1869) Op 91, arr. Napoleão [11'42]
La mélancolie - étude caractéristique d’après F Godefroid RO167 (1848) [5'23]
Jérusalem - grande fantaisie triomphale (Verdi) RO126 (1851)Op 13 [9'57]
Philip Martin (piano)
Recorded December 2004
HYPERION CDA67536 [78:08]


The tunes incorporated into the last piece are probably the best on the disc. That is because they are by Verdi. I will qualify that later.

Gottschalk is sometimes described - and is, in Hyperion’s publicity - as the father of American music. As a composer his work was variable though he was extremely prolific and this in spite of pursuing a relentless performing career as a brilliant pianist. His output included, among other things, a handful of operas (mostly lost) and a couple of symphonies although it largely consisted of piano music which he would have played at his recitals. The pieces would then often be published and disseminated widely, consolidating his fame as a performer so that he became a household name in musical circles throughout Europe and the Americas

Much of Gottschalk’s piano music is designed to show off his prowess as a pianist and at the same time pander to popular public taste. In this he was extraordinarily skilful and could turn out music that ranged from sentimental, Victorian "weepy" music to dazzling Lisztian fantasy pieces.

That brings me back to the last piece on the disc, Jérusalem, grand fantasie triomphale, and my opening remark. Jérusalem was the name Verdi gave to his revised version of the opera I Lombardi and Gottschalk might well have been at the premiere in Paris. Here we have a fine example of the operatic fantasy so popular at the time. This is not just bombast. Gottschalk plays with Verdi’s tunes with much lyricism and delicacy while providing the necessary virtuosity. Towards the end of his life this became a major display piece for the child prodigy pianist "Miss Teresa Carreno" who stormed New York with it in 1862. How on earth an eight year old girl got her hands around those big chords I’ll never know.

Apart from two other pieces on the disc, the music is Gottschalk’s own and is of a kind that calls for strong melodies but on the whole the tunes are not particularly distinguished, hence my remark which might have sounded cheap and churlish. However, there are two good reasons why some of this is not the best of Gottschalk. First, being as prolific and busy as he was, he could not be expected to maintain consistent quality and inspiration. Many of his pieces would have been knocked out on one of his long train journeys to the next recital; in the words of Jeremy Nicholas in the booklet notes, "on automatic pilot". Second, as I understand it, it was not until Hyperion and Philip Martin got to volume 4 of their splendid project of recording a selection of Gottschalk’s piano music that it was decided to extend the enterprise towards the complete extant keyboard music. It follows that up to volume 4 a fair portion of the best piano music was already spoken for. Considering this is volume 8, it is remarkable that there is among the music much in which to delight.

I really enjoyed Ses Yeux which includes a lyrical left hand melody accompanied with Lisztian filigree work in the right. At one point there is a Sousa–like march which is reminiscent of Vladimir Horowitz’s famous encore arrangement of Stars and Stripes Forever, complete with an equivalent of the dazzling obbligato piccolo passage high up on the piano. Horowitz used to make this sound as if there were at least three hands involved. Gottschalk’s piece here is an arrangement of a duet and Philip Martin really does use three hands, the third overdubbed.

The next piece is also of interest. Pastorella e Cavalliere is a sort of miniature tone poem for keyboard. The story, "The Young Shepherdess and the Knight", is one of unrequited love. There is a real sense of forward motion that appropriately suggests unfolding narrative and there are some very tricky cross rhythms between right and left hand that Philip Martin negotiates with skill and clarity.

With this series of discs, Martin is establishing himself as foremost champion of Gottschalk’s piano music. Gottschalk has needed champions, for his reputation went into decline after his death and it was over half a century before his come-back started. The late pianist Eugene List was a notable exponent and it seems Martin has taken on the mantle. His playing is characterised by a lyricism and delicacy that suits the music very well in spite of the virtuosity. This man is no Steinway basher, achieving his percussive effects in the more bombastic moments, by, like Horowitz, being boldly spare with the pedal. He also has an ability to indulge the more weepy music without it sounding over-sentimental. This quite a feat, especially in the most famous melody on the disc which is Gottschalk’s arrangement of Sir Henry Rowley Bishop’s Home, Sweet Home. Apparently Gottschalk would bring tears to the eyes of American audiences with this rendering. I wonder how he played it.

The recorded sound is excellent and the booklet well presented and highly informative.

John Leeman

 

 



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