Louis Moreau GOTTSCHALK (1829-1869)
Piano music for two and four hands
CD 1*
Réponds-moi, Danse Cubaine, Op. 50 (1859) [2:37]
Printemps d'Amour, Mazurka, Caprice de Concert, Op. 40 (1855) [4:31]
Marche de Nuit, Op. 17 (1855) [5:07]
Ses Yeux, Célèbre Polka de Concert, Op. 66 (1865) [4:32]
La Jota Aragonesa, Caprice Espagnol, Op. 14 (?1853) [4:14]
Le Bananier, Chanson nègre, Op. 5 (?1848) [3:03]
Ojos Criollos, Danse Cubaine, Caprice Brillante, Op. 37 (1859) [2:46]
Orfa, Grande Polka, Op. 71 (?1863/64) [2:39]
La Scintilla (L'Énticelle), Mazurka Sentimentale, Op. 20 (1848/53) [3:18]
Marche Funèbre, Op. 61/64 (1853/54) [5:46]
La Gallina, Danse Cubaine, Op. 53 (1859/63) [2:24]
Radieuse, Grande Valse de Concert, Op. 72 (?1863/64) [5:35]
Grande Tarantelle, Op. 67 (?1865) [5:01]
CD 2**
Souvenirs d'Andalousie, Caprice de Concert sur La Caña. Le Fandango et Le Jaleo de Jerez (1851) [4:17]
Le Banjo, Grotesque Fantasie, Caprice Américain (?1854/55) [4:03]
Grand Scherzo (1869) [4:56]
Pasquinade, Caprice (1863) [3:40]
Berceuse, Cradle Song (1861) [4:47]
Tournament Galop (?1850/51) [3:13]
Mazurk [3:47]
'Union' Paraphrase de Concert on the National Airs, The Star Spangled Banner, Yankee Doodle and Hail Columbia (1852/62) [8:41]
The Last Hope, Méditation Réligeuse (1854) [6:01]
Scherzo Romantique (1851) [3:50]
Le Mancenillier, West Indian Serenade (?1849/50) [5:22]
The Dying Poet, Meditation (?1863) [6:43]
*Alan Marks, Nerine Barrett (piano)
**Alan Marks (piano)
rec. 1984 (CD 2) and 1991 (CD 1), Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK
NIMBUS NI 7045/6 [46:35 + 60:07]
I count M. Louis Moreau Gottschalk among my most joyful and refreshing musical discoveries of recent years. It all started with a second-hand CD of the Irish pianist Philip Martin playing, among other things, Le Banjo, Le Bananier and the jaw-dropping Tremolo. That was followed by a Naxos recording of the orchestral music – review – and, most recently, by Martin’s set of the complete piano music (review). In a spirit of discovery I was only too keen to hear this Nimbus collection, from two pianists who are new to me. It’s been around for a while, but what makes this set rather special is that CD 1 is devoted to four-handed versions of these showpieces; and that promises to be very entertaining indeed.
So it proves. The Chicago-born Alan Marks and British partner Nerine Barrett get off to a terrific start with Réponds-moi, a now sparkling, now seductive little Cuban number. Anyone who knows the two-hander will be astonished by the ebullience and invention on display here. The piano sound is clear and unfettered, making it ideal for such spontaneous writing and playing. The music-box tinkle of Printemps d’Amour is especially attractive, that quicksilver treble a real delight. What a marvellous sense of collective music-making, and how well these players get to the open, easeful heart of these works.
Rhythms are always impeccable, those in the early Marche de Nuit and Le Bananier superbly sprung. I’m delighted at how the oft winsome character of Gottschalk’s creations is so well caught and characterised. Dances – whether central American or central European – trip off the keyboard in a most disarming way. The imperious mien and Mediterranean warmth of that Spanish caprice are brought out in full. Occasionally, in Orfa for instance, I miss Martin’s more thoughtful, introspective playing style, in which rhythms and textures are more subtly done. Really that’s a minor caveat when Marks and Barrett’s musicianship is otherwise so polished and pleasing.
The first CD ends with a triple flourish. After the Cuban smokiness of La Gallina – simply breathtaking in its quick-fire delivery – and that giddy little Radieuse waltz, comes a crowning tarantella. Marks faces formidable competition in disc two which, recorded several years earlier, sounds a little brighter than the first. Make no mistake, the playing here is very assured, and Marks only yields to Martin in pieces such as Le Banjo. Here the Irishman’s control of touch and dynamics is unrivalled. The American is rather less nuanced or revealing. Then again, he just melts one’s heart with the charming Pasquinade – shades of Tremolo, surely – and the cradle song.
It’s an invidious task comparing these two pianists in this repertoire. I wouldn’t want to be without either of them. Just listen to Marks’s runaway rendition of the Tournament Galop and that medley of American patriotic tunes and you’ll hear what I mean. Yes, Martin has the better, fuller recording and a surer, more intuitive way with this music, but Marks certainly captures the generous, larger-than-life nature of these pieces very well indeed. In spite of some lovely touches neither pianist can save the rather maudlin Last Hope and Dying Poet; still they’re hardly dross, and both pianists’ versions are feelingly done.
I see from the rather skimpy liner-notes that Alan Marks died in 1995, which is a pity as I’d have liked to hear more Gottschalk from him. That said, it’s the four-handers that offer the greatest and most consistent musical rewards; the solos are somewhat intermittent in their appeal. Fine, atmospheric recordings though.
Energetic and entertaining; a must for Gottschalk groupies.
Dan Morgan
Energetic and entertaining; a must for Gottschalk groupies.