guerre; Pensive; Le chant du martyr; Ses yeux; Pastorella e Cavalliere;
Radieuse; Dernier amour; Variations de concert sur l’hymne portugais;
La melancolie; Jerusalem – Philip Martin, piano – Hyperion
CDA 67536 78:06 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi) ****:
The music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) may well be our first
classical music, notwithstanding its amalgam of Chopin, Creole
sensibility, popular tunes, and religious psalmody. Flamboyant,
sentimental, alternately dashing and lugubrious, Gottschalk is
eminently pianists’ music, whether the appropriate venue is the salon
or the beer garden. Over a generation ago, Leonard Pennario and Ivan
Davis championed this music. This is the first time I have audited
Irish pianist Philip Martin, a pupil of the esteemed Louis Kentner.
Martin plays Gottschalk with debonair, suave savoir faire, even when,
as in Le chant du martyr, the music is clearly maudlin, a poor man’s
Liebestraum with a melodrama in B-flat Minor.
Home Sweet Home Op. 51 (1853) is a setting of Bishop’s air, based on
“Be it ever so humble. . .” If it were a movie, it would
star Beryl Mercer. The young Shepherdess and the Knight, Op. 32 (1859)
was composed in Guadeloupe and follows a narrative of spurned love.
Radieuse, Op. 78, is a robust piece with hints of Gounod’s Faust waltz.
Ses yeux is a polka-march that has Martin’s making sweet sounds in the
piano’s highest registers. The concert etude Dernier amour, Op. 63, is
a Saint-Saens tango cross-fertilized by an alla musette ethos. The
Portuguese national anthem, with its four-square rhythm, provides
excuses for some inflated rhetoric which still manages to charm. La
melancolie (1848), a youthful piece by Gottschalk, conjures the sounds
of a harp, as it transcribes the Op. 24 etude for that instrument by
Joseph Godefroid. The fantasy Jerusalem is a Lisztian reminscence on
Verdi’s I Lombardi, and it opens with a series of block chords which
might have inspired Rachmaninov’s most famous Prelude in C# Minor. The
sectionalized work alternately whispers, sobs, and marches to victory.
Martin makes the lovely aria “Une pensee amere” sing most lyrically.
The entire disc is a colossal labor of love, and Martin has the fingers
and the temperament to carry it off.