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CLASSICAL  March 2000

CLASSICAL March 2000

Subject:

Gottschalk - A Night in the Tropics

From:

Mats Norrman <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 15 Mar 2000 19:26:15 +0100

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     Louis Moreau Gottschalk

* Celebre Tarantelle Op.67/4
* Celebre Tarantelle Op.67/5
* Souvernir de Puerto Rico
* The Dying Poet, Meditation
* Tournament Galop
* O! Ma Charmante
* Le Bananier, Chanson Negre
* Manchega
* Berceuse
* A Night in the Tropics

Hot Springs Music Festival Orchestra/Richard Rosenberg
NAXOS American Classics 8.559036

Summary for the busy executive:  Calm sea and (almost) prosperous voyage

Louis Moreau Gottschalk was lionized during his lifetime as " The Creolean
Chopin", but still his works were soon forgotten, and suffered from
neglectance for long time.  But now Naxos, in their American Classics
series provides us with a new recording, which is the premiere recording of
the works on the CD and the first recordning based on the original score of
Sinfonie Romantique "A Night in the Tropics", with the missing last 42 bars
completed by Richard Rosenberg after study of the composers remaining
scores.

Who was then Louis Moreau Gottschalk? Frederick Starrs biography "Bamboula!
The life and times of Louis Moreau Gottschalk" (Oxford 1996) provides
naturally some info:  He was born in New Orleans in 1829, son of a jewish
buissnessman from London and a capricieuse white Creole woman who had fled
Saint-Domingue Haiti when that island was struck by the slave revolt that
followed in the wake of The French Revolution.  He grew up in a city which
already then had fine musical traditions.  As example can be mentioned the
city had two opera companies before New York had one single.  He showed
early musical talent and was sent to Paris for studies.  Piano was his
instrument, and already as twenty year old he played like a virtuoso and
amazed the fine salons of Paris, salons frequently visited by Liszt,
Thalberg, Chopin....And so he played!  He liked best to play his own
composition, which were based on the Creole tunes he had got from in his
family circle, for like Dvorak he didn't simply incorporate folk song
material in his compositions, but transformed his material in a mix of
sentimentality, bracing racous, or dark brood, that is his very own.  Not
only Dvorak, but also Chopin had this way of working, and with that, and
his virtuoso playing on the piano, Gottschalks appelation "The Creolean
Chopin" is fitting, although he never saw himself as a such.  Gottschalk
spent many years on tournee through the States, breaking new grounds for
America with offering complete programmings of his own works.  Gottschalk
was by no menas a snob; he offered the same program to farmers in Ohio, as
to goldminers in Nebraska or the highbrows of Boston.  After having taken
part in the Civil War on the Unionist side, and finally being falsely but
successfully framed by musical enemies in San Fransisco 1865, he fled for
South America.  Just as he was on the verge of returning, and just as he
was about to realise his lifelong dream of devoting his days fully to
composition, he died unexpectedly in Brazil 1869 of ruptured appendix.  But
he probably had a happy life, if not at least successful, as he was first
with so much:  He was the first American composer to win appreciation in
Europe, he was the first American virtuoso on piano to be compared with
Chopin, he was the first American musician who erased the hard line
dividing "serious" music from "popular" music, he was among the first
American artists to champion such causes as abolitionismus, public
education and popular democracy.  But above all, he was the first to
capture the sucopated music of the Caribbeans in his compositions, that
anticipate ragtime and even jazz - by half a century.

The works on the disc comes from different times of his life, and are
different to their character and construction.  The Celebre Tarantelles
are built as rondos for piano and orchestras, one (Nr.5) arranged by
Gottschalks friend Nicholas Riuz Espadero.  The other works except the
Sinfonie Romantique, which is orchestrated by the composer himself, are
orchestrated bt Jack Elliott.  Elliotts orchestrations are very similar to
Gottschalks own.  Souvernir de Puerto Rico has a march tempo, and starts
silent, building up the middle part where the theme chages in keys in
orchestra and piano to a descreet background tambourine, and dies out as
silent as it started.  The meditation is a sweet waltz, which Chopin could
have been proud of.  The galop rings after an opening touche with a theme
that reminds of Rossinis "Wilhelm Tell"-Ouverture.  This one and "Le
Bananier" are good examples of Gottschalks ability to - it seems easily -
find memorable and catchy melodies, so also in the Manchega, a concert
ouverture which forebodes and is well comparable with Gershwins "Cuban
Ouverture".  Gottschalks music indeed has a very "Tropic" sound, and it
wouldn't be too unrealistic to presume that much of this come from dotted,
sycopated rythms.  An intersting stylegrip is to be found in "O!  Ma
Charmante", where the music changes from major to minor and changes the
emotional tone completely.  The Berceuse is a very beautiful lullaby sung
in French by a baritone to piano accompaigment.  The Sinfonie Romantique,
whcih bears the subtitle "A Night in the Tropics", is a two movement
symphony, where the two movements bear the titles "Noche en los Tropicos"
and "Festa Criolla".  The first movement is ABA form, with a triumphant
midle section, that is very effective.  In the second movement a highly
original and interesting fugue, based on a syncopated Cuban theme.  The
symphony is by Gottschalk scored for the ridiculously enourmous force of
650 players, on this recording a lesser, but still large force has been
used, withabout 140 players.  One thing that strucks when listening to
Gottschalks music is that it is so calm in pulse and shows a very harmonic
and balanced temperament.  The music never, not in crescendos, not in
build-ups, not in finales, never becomes stressed or rushed.  One might
wonder if this is Gottschalk one hears or if it is Rosenberg, the
conductor.  My 2 cents goes for Gottschalk:  As example:  in "Le Bananier"
the horns play just one of these very calm sequences, and above them in
beutiful polyphony lies the flutes on sixteenpartnotes, and those can
hardly be played quicker to hbe able to play distinctly.  The performance
is overall very good, and especially is the singing of the baritone in the
Berceuse.  Who the baritone is I don't know as he is not credited, what I
think is lousy, for this ten-pointer.

Finally I could say that the music is just fine and the playing also,
but sound is another matter.  Naxos has in most of their recordings a too
thick and warm, bassy sound, that is inferior to Deccas masterfully refined
sound, even on AADs or say Spectrums treble.  I always wondered why sound
on Classical Cds are so bad, so I mostly have to turn the volume up when
listen to them, when I have to turn volume down to listen to popmusic.  And
this might not be a matter of loudness in the music.  At a performance of
Ravels "La Valse" was detected a soundstrength of 112 Decibel, and that
should beat most of poppy music as well.  Btw a little comparision:  A
starting jetplane lies on about 120.  But I have to turn up the volume much
to hear all voices.  It sounds as the music has been recorded outside (what
not is the case), or else the recording equipment has been placed on the
other side of the hall from where the orchestra is.  The orchestra sounds
very distant and I can turn the volume up to max without it is too
disturbing.  If it hadn't been for intersting music and a good performance,
sound had sinked this set.

Mats Norrman
[log in to unmask]

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