Gottschalk: Le banjo; Bamboula; Le bananier; Tremolo; The Dying Poet

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Gottschalk
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Le banjo; Bamboula; Le bananier; Tremolo; The Dying Poet
PERFORMER: Cecile Licad (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559145
In some respects Gottschalk’s music encapsulates all sorts of clichés about the New World: brash, informal, backslapping, brimming with confidence and can-do, opportunistic and slightly vulgar, marking its composer as the Barnum of the keyboard to compare with the equally notional version of Chopin as repository of old-world values: exquisite, sybaritic, enervated and moribund.

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There’s some truth in it, but an equal amount of untruth. Gottschalk, after all, was innovator enough to anticipate ragtime as well as the folkloric work of Albéniz and Granados. He could put on a most stupendous swagger (in ‘Bamboula’, for instance), but could also turn a delightful mazurka (‘La scintilla’) and compose music of genuinely affecting sentimentality (‘The Dying Poet’) that was adored by a generation.

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Philip Martin is recording every surviving note for Hyperion, but this single disc by Cecile Licad is a highly recommendable alternative. Licad has that essential quality for a Gottschalk interpreter: swing, which brings all the composer’s lithe syncopations infectiously to life. She is a great virtuoso, too – listen to her dazzling runs in the Creole-tinged ‘Le bananier’ – and gives music such as the concert paraphrase on ‘Star Spangled Banner’ its full measure of pomp and ridiculousness. A brilliant summing-up of an American classic. Christopher Wood