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Louis Moreau GOTTSCHALK (1829-1869)
Deuxième Banjo Op.82 (1853-54) [4:47]
Solitude Op.65 (1855) [4:06]
La Brise (c.1865) [4:01]
Souvenir de la Havane (1859-60) [6:01]
Le Chant du Martyr (c.1854) [6:15]
Manchega (c.1851-52) [3:42]
La Savane (1845) [6:20]
Union – Paraphrase de Concert (1864) [8:44]
Lambert Orkis (piano)
rec. Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress, May 1982. ADD
BRIDGE 9206 [43:56]

Lambert Orkis recorded this Gottschalk selection – not quite forty-four minutes’ worth – back in 1982. Added novelty derives from the fact that he played an 1865 Chickering concert grand – an instrument that he notes had a very light action, oddly sized keys, small dampers and a "wet sound." At times in fact it comes close to the sound of a pianola but despite its parlous state before restoration it held up pretty well during the recording, a few squeaks apart.

Orkis strikes a welcome balance between Lisztian fireworks and pious sentiment. In fact two of the eight works chosen might almost exemplify this dichotomous side of the composer’s oeuvre – the finger gymnastics of Union and the weepy reflection of Le Chant du Martyr. Elsewhere we have ebullience and Chopinesque reverie served up with often captivating colour.

Deuxième Banjo followed Le Banjo, a big Gottschalk hit though its publication preceded the better-known work. Ostinati vie with bravura banjo impersonations to create an ornamental gumbo devoted to the stringed instrument of the title. The Chickering’s middle voicings are perhaps appropriately rather hoarse and suit the more down home moments very nicely. The Chopin inheritance of which Gottschalk was so conspicuously aware is explicit in the 1855 Solitude with its quiet gravity adding emotive ballast to Orkis’s programme. Not inappropriately it was played at the composer’s Requiem Mass in New York. Grandiosity and Chopinesque waltz rhythms drive the delightful La Brise written a few years before Gottschalk’s early death. The Chickering’s treble really glitters and the piece ends with a grandiose salon flourish.

The Chickering is most apt for the eventful voicings in something like Souvenir de la Havane and its bright, extrovert qualities are well realised here as well. Manchega is a left hand etude rich in Iberian-Hispanic verve and rhythmic vivacity. The Chickering’s more "upright" sonorities and occasional incipient out-of-tune propensities seem only to add to the ribald dynamism of the music making. La Savane reminds one melodically of Skip To My Lou but is actually based on an old Creole song, Lolotte. And that pile driving Union, with its paraphrases of the Star Spangled Banner, Yankee Doodle and Hail Columbia ends proceedings with dynamic figuration cut from the Abbé’s finest.

Short timing of course but a special set of circumstances rather prevailed for this recital. The recording is a touch occluded. But the performances are richly enjoyable, redolent of opulent soirées and New Orleans salons and the calliope on the river.

Jonathan Woolf




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