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Louisiana: A Pianist's Journey / Kenneth Boulton

Boulton / Niemann / Stoughton / Beach / Grofe
Release Date: 10/26/2010 
Label:  Cambria   Catalog #: 1171   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Walter NiemannRoy Spaulding StoughtonJohn Parsons BeachFerde Grofé,   ... 
Performer:  Kenneth Boulton
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

LOUISIANA: A PIANIST’S JOURNEY Kenneth Boulton (pn) CAMBRIA CD 1171 (2 CDs: 105:20)

NIEMANN Louisiana Suite. STOUGHTON Louisiana Nights. BEACH New Orleans Miniatures. GROFÉ Mississippi Suite. GOTTSCHALK La Savane. Read more LEMONT Creole Sketches. KETELBEY Sweet Louisiana. THOMSON Louisiana Story: Suite

This is a set of nostalgic light mood pieces—some gentle, some lively, all tuneful—evocative of a genteel, leisurely pace of life in late 19th- and early 20th-century Louisiana. Other than Ferde Grofé, Virgil Thomson, and possibly Albert W. Ketelbey, the composers featured here are likely to be unfamiliar names, though a few of these pieces have received attention in the pages of Fanfare . A previous recording of Niemann’s Lousiana Suite was dismissively reviewed by James Camner in 26:3. Peter J. Rabinowitz gave a negative assessment of Cécile Licad’s CD of Gottschalk piano pieces (including La Savane ) in 27:4. Recordings of the Paul Whiteman orchestration of Grofé’s Mississippi Suite were reviewed by Lawrence A. Johnson in 21:3 and Jerry Dubins in 30:4, and Raymond Tuttle discussed an orchestral recording of Virgil Thomson’s Louisiana Story in 29:4.

Walter Niemann (1876–1953) is perhaps the most exotic entry here. He was not even an American, but rather a German pianist and composer; several of his works were recorded by Walter Gieseking. His Louisiana Suite , inspired by a visit to New Orleans during the early 1920s, freely adapts several Stephen Foster songs: The Glendy Burke, My Old Kentucky Home, Old Black Joe, Massa’s in the Cold, Cold Ground, Oh! Boys Carry Me ’long, Gentle Nettie Moore, Old Folks at Home, and Dixie’s Land.

Roy Spaulding Stoughton (1884–1953) made a career as a church organist and accompanist to silent films in the Boston area and had no connection with the South. Louisiana Nights is a brief, dreamy Creole waltz.

John Parsons Beach (1877–1953), originally from New York, studied under George Chadwick at the New England Conservatory of Music. After teaching stints in Minneapolis, New Orleans, and Boston there followed a trip to Europe, where he studied composition with Gian Francesco Malipiero. He then returned to Boston to continue his studies under Charles Loeffler before finally settling permanently in Pasadena. He composed several works on New Orleans themes; his New Orleans Street Cries was premiered by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1927. The six-movement suite New Orleans Miniatures depicts several noteworthy sights and sounds of the city: Esplanade Avenue, the Old Ursuline Convent dating from 1753, the ornate balconies of the French Quarter, the square before the St. Louis Cathedral, Mardi Gras celebrations, and a quiet farewell titled “Envoi.”

Ferdinand Rudolph von Grofé (1892–1972) is primarily famous—or perhaps notorious—for his Grand Canyon Suite , a jazz-influenced piece of populist Americana that critics at first derided and then ignored but which attained considerable favor with pops concert audiences. A versatile musician, he was a professional violist and pianist, conductor, arranger, and music librarian as well as composer. Like the Grand Canyon Suite , the Mississippi Suite of 1925 was a product of his highly successful collaboration from 1920 to 1932 with Paul Whiteman and his orchestra; the present recording is the first ever made of the original piano version. Its four movements are “Father of Waters,” a suitably flowing introduction; “Huckleberry Finn,” a waggish, almost Chaplinesque march parody that offers a musical portrait of the immortal Mark Twain character; “Old Creole Days,” a dreamy lullaby; and “Mardi Gras,” a bustling, ebullient finale.

A New Orleans native, Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829–69) became one of the most celebrated pianists of his era, admired in Paris by no less than Berlioz and Chopin. After returning to the United States in 1853, he spent the remainder of his life playing numerous concert tours of North and South America and writing virtuoso keyboard pieces until his untimely death. La Savane , the longest single continuous piece on this CD, is a set of variations on the Creole song Lolotte.

The pianist, organist, and pedagogue Cedric William Lemont (1879–1954) was born in Fredericton in New Brunswick, Canada. He was trained at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and then at Capitol College in Columbus, Ohio. He held various positions as a church organist and choir director in Fredericton and Chicago, and taught in Mobile and Columbus before finally settling in Brooklyn, where he established a successful private studio. A prolific composer of more than 600 pieces, he collaborated on three volumes of the American History and Encyclopedia of Music and wrote a best-selling piano method, Facile Fingers . According to the booklet notes, the nine-movement suite Creole Sketches “is a fanciful notion of everyday life in 19th-century Louisiana” that “illustrates Lemont’s typical approach to producing clever yet accessible music for upper intermediate piano students.”

The eccentric Englishman Albert W. Ketelby (1875–1959) attained immense popular success during the early years of the 20th century for his compositions on exotic topics such as In a Persian Marketplace and In a Chinese Temple Garden , only to fall into almost total obscurity by his death (and kept there by a stipulation in his will that all access to his private papers and manuscripts be denied). The waltz Sweet Louisiana dates from 1920 and is an entirely fanciful creation, as there is no evidence that its composer knew much of anything about the state.

Virgil Thomson (1896–1989) is the exception to the rule here in more ways than one. First, he is renowned as both a substantial composer and one of America’s most erudite and influential music critics. Second, his three-movement suite Louisiana Story , adapted from a 1949 musical score for a documentary film of the same title and transcribed by Hungarian pianist Andor Foldes, consists entirely of original thematic material and is harmonically and melodically far more adventurous than the other pieces on this disc. The film, commissioned by the Standard Oil Company (!), presents an idealized depiction of the advent of deep oil exploration and extraction in the bayou region as seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old Cajun boy. The opening “Bayou Pastorale” uses ascending arpeggios to depict the boy’s navigations of the bayou waters in a canoe. The following “Scherzo with Chorale” portrays his playful interactions with a pet raccoon against a backdrop of towering oil derricks, while the concluding “Squeeze Box” suggests lively regional folk dances.

The album itself is quite elegant, its solid cardboard book cover with cut-out window front revealing a reproduction of a beautiful multicolored historical map of Louisiana. An extremely detailed and informative booklet essay by pianist Kenneth Boulton also features numerous historical photographs of the composers and historical scenes, along with color reproductions of the covers of music scores and other artifacts. Boulton performs all these works with obvious affection, a deft touch, and a sure sense of style. The recorded sound is on the bright side and up close to the piano, which adds a touch of resonance. If this kind of entertaining, light popular repertoire appeals to you, you will want to acquire this disc.

FANFARE: James A. Altena
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Works on This Recording

Louisiana Suite for piano, Op. 97 by Walter Niemann
Performer:  Kenneth Boulton (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1924; USA 
Louisiana Nights: Valse Creole by Roy Spaulding Stoughton
Performer:  Kenneth Boulton (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: USA 
New Orleans Miniatures by John Parsons Beach
Performer:  Kenneth Boulton (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: USA 
Mississippi Suite by Ferde Grofé
Performer:  Kenneth Boulton (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1925; USA 
La savane, RO 232/Op. 3 by Louis Moreau Gottschalk
Performer:  Kenneth Boulton (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: Paris, France 
Creole Sketches, Op. 15 by Cedric Wilmont Lemont
Performer:  Kenneth Boulton (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: USA 
Sweet Louisiana by Albert William Ketèlbey
Performer:  Kenneth Boulton (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: England 
Louisiana Story: Suite by Virgil Thomson
Performer:  Kenneth Boulton (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1948; USA 

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