Cecile Licad, piano. Naxos 8.559145.
People used to call the American pianist and composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) the "Chopin of the Creoles," and for good reason. He was not only a sensation in the U.S., he was the toast of Europe and much acclaimed by Frederic Chopin. Gottschalk's New Orleans upbringing and Paris schooling were a perfect combination for the kind of then-new piano music he presented to his audiences, a half century foreshadowing ragtime, Scott Joplin, and jazz.
Of the one hundred or so short piano pieces Gottschalk wrote, this disc includes sixteen of them, representing a varied roundup of his most-popular and most-influential works. Filipina classical pianist Cecile Licad plays them with vigor, vivacity, and sensitivity, yet it's a performance style that may or may not have been what Gottschalk had in mind since there is no clear tradition of playing the man's music. By comparison, Alan Marks on a similar collection from Nimbus plays many of the same pieces at a slightly more traditional pace. In any event, Licad's sometimes leisurely, sometimes highly animated manner seems well suited to Gottschalk's more-lyrical and more-outgoing compositions.
"Le Banjo," the piece that opens the recital, stands out for its expressive manner. So does "The Dying Poet," very well executed here for two reasons: Because the booklet note says it was the most-famous piano work of the Civil War era, an interesting facet of American musical life; and, as important, because it bears an uncanny resemblance to "After the Ball," the popular song Charles K. Harris wrote in 1892 using virtually the same melody. Well, copyright laws were nonexistent in those days and Gottschalk was long dead, so who was to complain?
Among the other pieces in the collection are "Pasquinade," a forerunner of twentieth-century jazz tunes, and "The Union," a paraphrase of national airs like "The Star Spangled Banner," "Yankee Doodle," and "Hail Columbia." Ms. Licad plays them all with intelligence and grace, although, as I say, it remains a question whether pianists of Gottschalk's day would have played them as she does.
The sound is very good, too, and one cannot go wrong for the modest price Naxos charges. However, while the Naxos disc sounds like a very good piano recording, the Nimbus disc I mentioned earlier sounds like a very good piano, period. There's more air and more natural sparkle to the Nimbus recording, elements that set it apart from the ordinary, even if the disc does cost considerably more than the Naxos product. Decisions, decisions, all of them good ones.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer
Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.
Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer
For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.
For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst
I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.
Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio
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