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Louis Moreau GOTTSCHALK (1829-1869)
Symphonie No. 2, ‘À Montevideo’, RO 257 (1868/1869) [11:13]
Célèbre Tarantelle pour piano et orchestre, Op. 67, RO 259 (1868) [6:07]
Escenas Campestres Cubanas  – Opéra en 1 acte, RO 77 (1859/1860) [13:23]
Variations de concert sur l'hymne portugais du Roi Louis I, Op. 91, RO 289 (1869) [12:32]
Ave Maria, RO 10 (arr. R. Rosenberg for voice and orchestra) (c. 1864) [5:56]
La  Casa del Joven Enrique por Méhul  Gran overture, RO 54b (arr. Gottschalk for three pianos, 10  hands and orchestra) (1861) [11:07]
Symphonie romantique, ‘La nuit des tropiques’ (A Night in the Tropics), RO 255 (1859) [16:14]
Michael Gurt (piano) (RO259, 289)
Anna Noggle (soprano); Darryl Taylor (tenor); Richard Ziebarth (bass-baritone) (RO77)
Melissa Barrick (soprano) (RO10)
John Contiguglia, Richard Contiguglia, Angela Draghicescu, Chin-Ming Lin, Joshua Pepper (pianos) (RO54b)
Hot Springs Festival Symphony Orchestra/Joshua Rosenberg
rec. 7, 11-12, 14-15 June 2006, Hot Springs Youth Center, Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas. 3-12 June 1999, Horner Hall, Hot Springs Civic and Convention Center, Arkansas (RO255).
Texts and translations provided

Gottschalk, ‘The Chopin of the Creoles’, spent most of his short life on concert platforms in Europe, the US and especially South America. Extraordinary then that he found time to write music, much of it lost when he died of peritonitis at the age of 39. As the composer’s biographer S. Frederick Starr remarks in the CD booklet, reconstructing the surviving material from smudged originals and inaccurate copies was an enormous task. The results are presented here by talented young players who respond enthusiastically to these erratic but entertaining scores.
First-rate music it isn’t, although anyone who has sampled Philip Martin’s excellent traversal of Gottschalk’s piano music on Hyperion will know the composer wrote some astonishingly original and inventive pieces. Just sample the jaw-dropping virtuosity of Tremolo, Grande étude de concert RO 265 in Volume 5 (Hyperion CDA67248) and you will get some idea of Gottschalk’s command of the instrument.
But as so often with piano virtuosi – Chopin, Schumann and Liszt come to mind – one might feel their orchestral works are not always as enduring (or endurable) as their solo pieces. And so it proves with Gottschalk. Despite its subtitle ‘Á Montevideo’ the second symphony doesn’t sound at all South American in orchestration or rhythms; if anything it sounds Mendelssohnian, especially in the Presto with its echoes of the ‘Italian’ symphony. There is a certain litheness to the writing, although the reconstructed timpani parts – Gottschalk was notoriously lax in annotating them – add a degree of bloat to the orchestral textures. He does offer a hint of carnival, though, with what sounds like the whistle of celebratory fireworks.
Fortunately the symphony isn’t long enough to outstay its welcome; the same goes for Gottschalk’s ‘show-off piece’ the Tarantella, which boasts some wonderfully muscular rhythms and a scintillating, Lisztian piano part. There is more of a Latin temperament in the music as well, which is presented here in the composer’s recently discovered original version. Add to that an irresistible jauntiness and it’s hard not to smile, especially at that spirited little figure that gallops through the piece.
Gottschalk’s operas and many other works were lost after his death but his one-acter has been painstakingly reconstructed for this recording. These Cuban country scenes – penned for one of the composer’s legendary Havana concerts – bring out the Latin flavour from the start. The orchestral players seem to relish the music’s vitality and hip-swaying rhythms and conductor Rosenberg does an admirable job of keeping it all together. The soloists are excellent – and suitably histrionic when required – though it’s hardly the most taxing music to sing. Still, it’s a heady mix of styles (is that a Straussian waltz buried in there somewhere)?
One can just imagine the audience savouring this bit of romantic silliness on a sultry Caribbean summer’s night. Included in the fun are some genuine fireworks (vocal this time) courtesy of Anna Noggles’ athletic soprano. If the work never quite achieves a proper dramatic or musical shape that hardly matters, as it’s all so engaging.
The Brazilian emperor Pedro I (1838-1889) is credited with the majestic march tune used in the concert variations. There is one small problem though: Gottschalk only notated the first variation and a scale for piano, so Michael Gurt (who also happens to be a piano professor) had to reconstruct the solo part for this recording. And a good job it is, too. The orchestration is Berliozian in its weight and gravitas, the pianist providing what amounts to a string of mercurial cadenzas in between.
Unexpectedly at around 7:50 Gottschalk launches into an altogether more reflective, melancholy episode. For a moment it seems like a different work entirely, such is the change of mood and pace. This is much more reminiscent of his piano pieces in terms of rhythmic subtlety and colouring Of course the finale is suitably stirring in its martial splendour. Special mention to Rosenberg for springing the rhythms so well; the music could so easily become stolid otherwise. And the Naxos engineers have achieved a natural balance too, with just the right degree of warmth. (The somewhat boomy bass in some of the climaxes probably has more to do with Gottschalk’s reconstructed scores than any technical shortcomings.)
The Ave Maria – in Rosenberg’s arrangement for two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, harp and strings – marks yet another change of mood. It is a sickly sweet confection with more than a hint of the Fauré Requiem about it. Melissa Barrick sings it in a faux-naïf style that is frankly toe-curling in its awfulness. Definitely not Gottschalk’s – or Rosenberg’s – finest hour.
At least the Young Henry overture cleanses the palate with its bracing horns. The three pianos don’t appear for quite some time but when they do it’s clear this is Gottschalk in scintillating form. Over the top? Without question, but the Hot Springs band play with such passion and brio that it’s impossible to resist the music’s gaudy charm. The Haydnesque hunting calls are just spectacular, the pianists making the most of Gottschalk’s virtuoso writing. Admittedly the orchestral textures are a little clotted at times but there is a sweep to the music that is entirely appropriate, given that Méhul’s opera Le jeune Henri (1797) is the model here. Most enjoyable.
If you’re feeling a little flustered after all that then try a little (tropical) night music. This recording uses Rosenberg’s score, reconstructed from the composer’s autograph. The music has an unusual delicacy and transparency (for Gottschalk) and a rich vein of lyricism, too. The symphony also calls for a large orchestra – 650 players in the composer’s own performances – but thankfully Gottschalk doesn’t overplay his hand, keeping the extras for the big moments (of which there are surprisingly few)..
The second movement, aptly titled ‘Festa Criolla’, has all the energy of the carnival, although Gottschalk’s earlier lyricism is not entirely eclipsed. In some ways it’s a rather low-key and sometimes laboured piece, with little of the fizz of the earlier overture. That said the celebrations end in a suitably rousing fashion.
With one or two caveats this collection is as good an introduction to Gottschalk’s œuvre as any. Yes, the inspiration is sporadic, but with so much reconstruction required what we hear is probably only an approximation of what the composer intended anyway. The liner notes are rather basic but then this disc is just a primer; if you want to hear Gottschalk at his best Philip Martin’s survey is the place to look.
Dan Morgan

Naxos American Classics page 


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