RECORD OF THE MONTH
Louis Moreau GOTTSCHALK (1829-1869)
The Complete Solo Piano Music
Track-listing at end of review
Philip Martin (piano)
rec. various dates and venues. DDD
HYPERION CDS 44451/8 [8 CDs: 578:13]
Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s natal spot, New Orleans, was – and still is – a musical and cultural melting pot. By all accounts that’s why the Paris Conservatoire rejected the young pianist’s application without even hearing him play. In spite of that, Gottschalk soon became a salon favourite, attracting praise from the likes of Berlioz and Pleyel. He toured France, Switzerland and Spain before returning to the United States in 1853. He spent the rest of his short life performing in South and Central America, with forays further north. Gottschalk died in Rio on 24 November 1869. He was just 40.
Much of Gottschalk’s music disappeared after his death, but what we have paints a fascinating picture of this most original and engaging composer. Reconstructing some of his larger works – review – may have been a daunting task, but the end results are most rewarding. That said, it’s the piano music that really demands our attention. The 109 pieces collected here represent the most complete survey of Gottschalk’s œuvre for the instrument, and who better than Hyperion to record it? So often I’ve remarked on the excellence of their solo piano recordings, and I’m delighted to say this mouth-watering collection more than lives up to expectations.
But first, what of the competition? Well, in terms of completeness there is none. However, Eugene List, Cary Lewis and Joseph Werner (Vanguard) and Cecile Licad (Naxos) offer single-disc selections that are certainly worth acquiring. The trouble is, Philip Martin’s performances are so fresh and spontaneous, the rhythms so naturally sprung, that others seem almost clumsy by comparison. Indeed, just listening to Licad I found her phrasing so very different that I was taken aback. Still, her view of these scores has a strength and authority that can’t be ignored.
So, what of the Martin set? Presented in a sturdy cardboard case, the discs are in good-quality sleeves sporting the original artwork. Throw in a substantial, well- written booklet and the whole effect is very pleasing indeed, even more so at this low price. At the time of writing the box was available from the usual online sources for as little as £3 per disc – a remarkable bargain. But it’s the music that matters, CD 1 propelling us into Gottschalk’s unique sound-world with some of his most scintillating works. Le banjo is one of those understated display pieces that defines Gottschalk’s musical persona rather well. Reticence may not be the first word that springs to mind when talking of keyboard virtuosi, but it’s this very quality that makes his music so irresistible.
Philip Martin seems more aware of this paradox than his rivals – Licad especially, who brings a studied, rather Lisztian seriousness to her readings. Martin gives the music an easeful charm, a delicious sparkle, that always enchants the ear and lifts the heart. Le mancenillier and Minuit à Séville are astonishing in their deft interaction of left and right hands – another characteristic of these pieces – Martin’s seemingly intuitive response to shifting mood and rhythm a constant source of delight. And if it’s bravura playing you’re after, then Union, based on patriotic American tunes, will oblige – and then some.
The recording is natural and open, with a crystalline treble and clear, well-focused bass. Most important, the piano is placed at a sensible distance, so that even in Gottschalk’s more excitable moments the sound is never brash or overwhelming. And although the perspectives in CD 2 seem a little closer there’s a compensating warmth that makes it sound as alluring as before. There are few disappointments in this set, and none on this disc, the burbling little Berceuse a model of precision and feeling. And just listen the bell-like sonorities Martin coaxes from his piano. Really, this is magical.
Attentive listeners may be able to hear the pedals here, but I doubt anyone would find it intrusive or irritating. Manchega is another of those breathless pieces that Martin articulates so well, the musical ebb and flow expertly judged. Indeed, it’s that sense of internal architecture that sets Martin apart from his rivals; again, Licad is impressive here and in La savane, but she lacks the loose-limbed energy and quiet introspection Martin finds in these contrasting pieces. Moreover, the latter also ‘floats’ Gottschalk’s melodies most beautifully, without a hint of artifice.
One might be tempted to compare Gottschalk and Liszt, especially in their operatic paraphrases, but this Miserere from Il Trovatore has a gentle artlessness – an out-and-out naiveté, even – that one doesn’t hear in the Abbé’s more worldly utterances. It’s that disarming reticence, I suppose, although the stentorian close to this paraphrase – and the grand flourishes of Souvenir de Lima – are certainly Lisztian in amplitude and attack. How very different from the distracted musings of the Ballade in A flat, or the Tremolo-like Pasquinade, the latter superbly scaled and articulated. Martin’s control of touch and dynamics is another reason why this collection is so successful.
The melting caprice ô ma charmante, épargnez-moi! opens CD 3 which, although it’s well-stocked with goodies, has one or two minor disappointments. The fervent fantasy on the Brazilian national anthem isn’t one of them, blessed as it is with a mix of pomp and point; nor is the winsome little Gottschalk’s melody, a charming – and passionate – self-portrait. Licad’s Bamboula is exciting but returning to Martin’s account there’s a thrust – a masculinity, perhaps – that better suits the virile, declamatory nature of the piece. Only the rhetorical doodles of The dying poet and The last hope let the side down, but only by a little. And once again we end with a Tremolo-like crowd-pleaser, the riotous Tournament galop, dashed off with great swagger and brilliance.
The halting rhythms of Pensée poétique and La gitanella – on CD 4 – are beautifully judged; there’s a Satie-esque circularity to the former that’s most engaging, the latter imperiously played. Martin is equally sympathetic in the dark-toned lament Morte!, although one may be forgiven for finding it rather morbid. That said, the heart of this piece beats so valiantly that it seems churlish to complain. The tours-de-force here are the coruscating caprice Polonia, which balances rhythmic verve and good humour, and the jaunty Forest glade polka. Not for the first time, I was impressed by Martin’s ability to elevate Gottschalk’s melodies above the dense thickets below. As for Apothéose, it has a thrilling weight and dynamism that will rattle the windows or dislodge a few tiles.
There’s no doubting Gottschalk’s flamboyance in pieces such as Apothéose but if, like me, you’re more inclined towards Eusebius than Florestan, you’ll find plenty of poetry and lyricism in CD 5, which opens with the charming Sospiro waltz. Martin phrases and pedals most delicately both here and in Marguerite. One of the things I like least in Licad’s Gottschalk is the exaggerated dynamics and unsubtle rhythmic shifts. Just listen to Martin at the start of Bataille and you’ll hear a gentle, unassuming pianism that’s wonderful to behold. Indeed, of all the discs in this box CD 5 is the one to snatch from the flames; it’s unalloyed pleasure from start to finish, Martin’s laugh-our-loud rendition of Tremolo an object lesson in touch and timing.
I’m not a great fan of YouTube, but a quick Google unearthed a video of Martin playing Tremolo at a concert in Mexico. Even allowing for the clangy recording and amateurish visuals there’s no doubting his affinity for this music; it comes through in each miraculous bar, as the appreciative applause so amply demonstrates. The music on CD 6 is played with the same commitment and flair, from the rocking figures and silvery spray of Le carnaval de Venise to the delightfully mobile – and Schubertian – Vision and will-‘o’-the-wispery of Danse des sylphes. Some of the other pieces are less interesting, but Martin’s programmes are eminently sensible; not only is there variety on each disc, there’s also a preponderance of quality material, so one never feels short-changed.
Even towards the end of a collection such as this, when one might expect some odds and ends, there’s more than enough to keep one listening to CD 7. True, The water sprite and Fairy land aren’t as light and characterful as one might expect, but the rich, dark harmonies of Deuxième banjo are well caught. As judicious as ever, Martin plays the Battle cry of freedom with just enough jingle to underplay the jingo, making this a splendid encore piece. And what to make of Gottschalk’s effervescent little waltz, La brise, or the tongue-in-cheekiness of God save the Queen, which brings this CD to a regal close? All good fun and, as always, superbly recorded.
I know the show business mantra that one should always leave ‘em wanting more, and even as I worked through CD 8 I knew I was going to feel bereft when it ended. It all passes so quickly, from this bittersweet take on Home, sweet home – it sounds remarkably like it’s being played on a guitar or banjo – through to the Joplinesque Ses yeux and the splendour of Jerusalem. Some of the other items are less memorable but, as alway, the ledger ends in credit.
If, like Crusoe, I were to find myself stranded on a desert isle this wonderful box would be more than enough to keep me entertained while awaiting rescue. It’s an unqualified success, a winning blend of fine pianism and infectious music, and all presented in top-notch sound. At this or any price it’s an absolute steal.
It’s an unqualified success, a winning blend of fine pianism and infectious music, and all presented in top-notch sound.
Le banjo - Fantaisie grotesque, an American sketch RO22 (Op. 15) (?1854-1855) [4:06]
Le mancenillier - La sérénade RO142 (Op. 11) (?1849-1850) [5:26]
Minuit à Séville - Caprice RO170 (Op. 30) (1852/1856) [4:59]
Romance in E flat RO270 (?1859) [2:57]
Chanson du gitano RO35 (?1852) [4:24]
Mazurka in F sharp [4:11]
Souvenir de Porto Rico - Marche des Gibaros RO250 (Op. 31) (1857/1858) [6:44] Souvenir de la Havane - Grand caprice de concert RO246 (Op. 39) (1859) [6:25]
Danza RO66 (Op. 33) (1857/1859 [5:45]
6ème Ballade RO14 (Op. 85) (?1860s) [6:17]
Columbia - Caprice américain RO61 (Op. 34) (1859) [5:49]
Ojos criollos - Danse cubaine, caprice brillant, contradanza RO185 (Op. 37) (1859) [2:17]
Le bananier - Chanson nègre RO21 (Op. 5) (?1848) [2:41]
Union - Paraphrase de concert on the national airs Star-Spangled Banner, Yankee Doodle and Hail Columbia RO269 (Op. 48) (1852/1862 [7:39]
Suis-moi! - Contradanza, caprice RO253 (Op. 45) (?1861) [3:28]
Berceuse - Cradle song RO27 (Op. 47) (?1861) [4:42]
La jota aragonesa - Caprice espagnol RO130 (Op. 14) (?1853) [2:53]
Manchega - Étude de concert RO143 (Op. 38) (?1852/1853) [4:16]
Marche de nuit RO151 (Op. 17) (1855) [4:59]
La savane - Ballade créole RO232 (Op. 3) (?1847/1849) [6:49]
Miserere du Trovatore - Paraphrase de concert RO171 (Op. 52) 1856/1857 [8:56]
Souvenirs d’Andalousie - Caprice de concert sur la caña, le fandango et le jeleo de Jerez RO242 (Op. 22) (1851) [4:12]
Polka in A flat RO275 (1859) [3:01]
Ballade in A flat RO271 (1853) [4:46]
Polka in B flat RO273 (?1859) [2:01]
Ynés - Danza in E flat RO277 (1857/1861) [2:10]
Caprice-polka RO44 (Op. 79) (1856) [4:36]
Scherzo-romantique RO233 (Op. 73) (1851) [3:49]
Souvenir de Lima - Mazurka RO247 (Op. 74) (1860) [4:27]
Grand scherzo RO114 (Op. 57) (1869) [5:00]
Pasquinade - Caprice RO189 (Op. 59) (?1863) [3:43]
ô ma charmante, épargnez-moi! - Caprice RO182 (Op. 44) (?1859/1861) [3:09]
Grande fantaisie triomphale sur l:hymne national brésilien RO108 (Op. 69) (1869) [9:13]
Gottschalk’s melody (?1853) [2:06]
Bamboula - Danse de nègres RO20 (Op. 2) (?1846/1848) [8:09]
The dying poet - Meditation, arpejos de saudade RO75 (?1863) [6:35]
Hercule - Grande étude de concert RO116 (Op. 88) (?1869) [5:20]
The last hope - Méditation religieuse RO133 (Op. 16) (1854) [5:11]
Murmures éoliens RO176 (Op. 46) (1858/1859) [8:53]
Andante - Symphony No 1, ‘La nuit des tropiques’ RO5 (?1879, first movement, arr. A. Napoleão) [12:51]
La chute des feuilles - Nocturne RO55 (Op. 42) (1860) [7:32]
Tournament galop RO264 ?1850/1 [3:10]
La colombe - Petite polka RO60 (Op. 49) (1863) [4:02]
La moissonneuse - Mazurka caractéristique RO173 (Op. 8) (1848/1849) [2:42]
Le songe d’une nuit d’été - Caprice élégant RO240 (Op. 9) (1850) [3:29]
Pensée poétique RO194 (Op. 62) (?1855) [3:44]
L’étincelle - Mazurka sentimentale RO80 (Op. 20) (?1848/1853) [4:09]
Souvenir de Cuba - Mazurka RO245 (Op. 75) (1859) [3:13]
La gitanella - Caprice caractéristique RO103 (Op. 35) (?1858) [2:27]
Morte!! - Lamentation RO174 (Op. 60) (?1868) [5:58]
Polonia - Grand caprice de concert RO210 (Op. 35) (1859) [7:12]
Fantôme de bonheur - Illusions perdues, caprice RO94 (Op. 36) (?1859) [5:49]
Forest glade polka - Polka brillante RO98 (Op. 25) (1853) [2:56]
Ossian - Deux Ballades RO187 (Op. 4) (?1847/1849) [5:05]
No 1 [2:38]
No 2 [2:16]
Ricordati - Nocturne, méditation RO227 (Op. 26) (?1856) [3:08]
Reflets du passé - Rêverie RO223 (Op. 28) (?1853) [5:06]
Apothéose - Grande marche solennelle RO8 (Op. 29) (?1856) [11:36]
Sospiro - Valse poétique RO241 (Op. 24) (1855) [2:54]
Marguerite - Grande valse brillante, valse sentimentale RO158 (Op. 76) (?1866) [4:16]
Bataille - Étude de concert RO25 (Op. 64) (?1867/1868) [8:27]
Réponds-moi - Danse cubaine, caprice brillant RO226 (Op. 50) (1859) (Arr. for piano solo by C Wachtmann, Mainz, c1868) [3:17]
Solitude RO239 (Op. 65) (1855) [4:28]
8ème Ballade RO16 (Op. 90) (?1860s) [10:34]
Tremolo - Grande étude de concert RO265 (Op. 58) (?1868) [6:05]
Orfa - Grande polka RO186 (Op. 71) (?1863/1864 [2:57]
El cocoyé - Grand caprice cubain de bravura RO57 (Op. 80) (1854) [7:00]
Polka de salon RO207 (Op. 1) (1844/1846) [3:30]
Rayons d’azur - Polka de salon RO220 (Op. 77) (1855) [3:35]
La chasse du jeune Henri - Morceau de concert RO54 (Op. 10) (1849) [9:35]
Le carnaval de Venise - Grand caprice et variations RO45 (Op. 89) (1850) [12:21]
Marche funèbre RO147 (Op. 64, also published as Op. 61) (1853/1854) [5:05]
Vision - Étude RO295 (Op. posth) (1868/1869) [3:33]
Printemps d’amour - Mazurka, caprice de concert RO214 (Op. 40) (1855) [4:53]
Caprice élégiaque RO38 (Op. 56) (?1868/1869) [5:00]
Colliers d’or - Deux mazurkas (Op. 6) (?1847/1849) [4:25]
No .1 RO58 [1:57]
No. 2 RO59 [2:16]
Danse ossianique RO64 (Op. 12) (?1850) [3:40]
Jeunesse - Mazurka brillante RO129 (Op. 70) (1859) [2:22]
Danse des sylphes - Caprice de concert RO65 (Op. 86) (?1850/1853) (After Félix Godefroid, 1818-1897) [8:58]
The maiden’s blush - Grande valse de concert RO141 (?1863/1864) [3:11]
Impromptu RO122 (Op. 54) (1869) [6:06]
La favorita - Grande fantaisie de concert RO95 (Op. 68) (1859) (After Gaetano Donizetti, 1797-1848) [16:20]
The water sprite - Polka de salon RO296 (Op. 27) (1851/1853) [4:29]
Forget me not - Mazurka caprice RO99 (?1869) [4:35]
Deuxième banjo RO24 (Op. 82) (?1853/1854) [5:18]
Souvenir des Ardennes - Mazurka de salon RO243 (1846) [4:24]
Battle cry of freedom - Caprice héroïque, grand caprice de concert RO62 (Op. 55) (1863/1864) (After G. F. Root) [6:33]
Fairy land - Schottische de concert RO91 (1859) [3:58]
Hurrah galop - Galop. de concert, pas redoublé, caprice de concert RO118 (1859) [2:33]
Chant du soldat - Grand caprice de concert RO51 (Op. 23) (?1855) [10:17]
Love and chivalry - Caprice élégant en forme de schottisch RO135 (?1859) [4:35]
La brise - Valse de concert RO30 (?1865) [3:29]
Madeleine - Étude RO140 (?1869) [4:34]
7ème Ballade RO15 (Op. 87) (?1860s) [5:40]
La gallina - Danse cubaine RO100 (Op. 53) (1859/1863) [2:46]
The dying swan - Romance poétique RO76 (Op. 100) (?1869) [4:51]
God save the Queen - Morceau de concert RO106 (Op. 41) (1850) [4:37]
Home, sweet home - Caprice RO117 (Op. 51) (?1862) (After Sir Henry Bishop, 1786-1855) [6:48]
Chant de guerre RO48 (Op. 78) (1857/1859) [5:06]
Pensive - Polka-rédowa RO196 (Op. 68) (?1862/1863) [4:16]
Le chant du martyr - Grand caprice religieux RO49 (?1854) [7:41]
Ses yeux - Polka de concert RO235 (Op. 66) (1865) (Arr. Napoleão) [6:19]
Pastorella e cavalliere RO190 (Op. 32) (1859) [7:42]
Radieuse - Grande valse de concert RO218 (Op. 72) (?1863/1864) (Arr. Maylath) [5:37]
Dernier amour - Étude de concert RO73 (Op. 62, also published as Op. 63) (?1867/1869) [6:41]
Variations de concert sur l’hymne portugais RO290 (Op. 91) (1869) (Arr. Napoleão) [11:42]
La mélancolie - Étude caractéristique d’après F. Godefroid RO167 (?1850) [5:23]
Jerusalem - Grande fantaisie triomphale RO126 (Op. 13) (1850) (After Giuseppe Verdi, 1813-1901) [9:57]