WORKS: Piano Music, Vol. 6
PERFORMER: Philip Martin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67349
Performance was the key to Gottschalk’s career – he refused to write down some compositions, as if protecting a magic formula – and it is easy to imagine the dazzling effect of the itinerant virtuoso who travelled thousands of miles a year to bring pianistic succour to hundreds of lonely, forgotten towns in far corners of the earth. All very different from Hyperion’s recording project with Philip Martin. Replace the magnetic presence of the charismatic pianist with a pair of speakers, and does the music still stand up? Well, sometimes, although earlier issues in the series boasted more highlights than this one. The longer pieces seem paradoxically to offer less sustenance than the shorter ones. Both Le carnaval de Venise and Danse des sylphes are exercises in the massive accretion of notes around a tiny, delicate germ of an idea. Brilliant and technically awesome, but also wasteful and absurd.
Then there is a heavy dose of the sub-Chopin Gottschalk, illustrated by various mazurkas and the Danse ossianique. Echoes of the indigenous American music that Gottschalk so creatively transformed are all too fleeting, but Philip Martin is never less than an extremely able and charming guide to this curious repertoire. Christopher Wood