This is something of a problematic disc. Gottschalk's music, an eclectic mix of various folk and popular sources, doesn't sound like anyone else's and may be the first clear example of art music representations of true Americana. Although I am relatively unfamiliar with the area his music sounds like my idea of New Orleans in the nineteenth century, a fascinating mix of a variety of expressions; Caribbean, Cajun, European, among others. Performing the music presents a range of options and challenges and listening to different interpreters give you an almost startling array of very different takes - to the extent that one sometimes wonders whether they are even playing music by the same composer, much less the very same piece.
Now, I suppose many potential listeners would want a representative one disc survey of Gottschalk's to sample before considering investing in something like Philip Martin's series of all of Gottschalk's piano works (for my own part at least, although I find the music fascinating I don't consider myself enough of a fan to take that step). To be honest I am less than sure that NoŽl Lee's recital is one to go for, however. Lee takes a relatively straightforward approach, but regardless of the range of interpretive choices I think this is the one way to approach Gottschalk's music that certainly does not work. There is simply too little warmth and poetry here, but even worse, the energy, sense of adventure, and kaleidoscopic array of colors is missing. Even the most potentially exhilarating pieces remain earthbound, and even charm and elegance seem to come in short supply.
I should emphasize that it is not all bad. The brittle soundworld of Le banjo, for instance, is well realized, and both Le bananier and Bamboula receive decent if not exceptional performances (they suffer somewhat from rhythmic inflexibility). Some of the more reflective works, however, suffer badly. The Last Hope is simply boring and The Dying Poet nondescript (though in the latter case at least I cannot completely determine to what extent it may be the composer's fault). The recorded sound is fine if a little bright and dry. To sum up, then, this is not a disc that will do much for Gottschalk's reputation - you may not warm to the music in any case, but here it isn't really given a chance.