Gottschalk: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2; Escenas Campestres Cubanas; Célèbre Tarantelle

Gottschalk: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2; Escenas Campestres Cubanas; Célèbre Tarantelle

by Richard Rosenberg



Great Galloping Gottschalk! "The Chopin of the Creoles" produced five operas and a number of massed orchestral works, for example, a symphony for 41 pianos in 10 parts with soloist. Such musical ginormities, however, have mostly disappeared or survived only in the form of sketchy, barely legible manuscripts rather roughly handled by past editors seeking to create "practical" performing editions of Gottschalk's stubbornly impractical creations. Naxos' Louis Moreau Gottschalk: Complete Works for Orchestra puts together, for the first time, a comprehensive and textually accurate program of Gottschalk's surviving orchestral scores, including a couple of pieces discovered early in the twenty-first century and one that was never even performed in Gottschalk's own lifetime. The Hot Springs Music Festival is held every summer in Arkansas' Hot Springs National Park, and its music director, Richard Rosenberg, is the guiding force behind these reconstructions of Gottschalk's orchestral music. This endeavor began with his deciphering of the original orchestral score, including its elusive and never truly investigated percussion battery, of Gottschalk's symphony "A Night in the Tropics" in 1999. This was issued on the Naxos disc of that name in 2000 along with a number of orchestral transcriptions of Gottschalk's familiar piano works, and that same performance is included here, though this should not deter Gottschalk fans who acquired the earlier disc. You'd be missing out on a lot, for here is the world-premiere recording of Gottschalk's "concerto" on Méhul's overture "La Chasse de jeune Henri," "La Caza del Joven Enrique pro Méhul" (1861), scored for five pianos and an orchestra of 112 players, a work unknown to Robert Offergeld and only discovered in 2003. The brass parts in this piece are particularly effective and demonstrate Gottschalk's affinity for the music of Hector Berlioz to the same degree that his solo piano music shows his affinity with Chopin. The other works here have appeared before, but in versions that compromised both Gottschalk's vision and his orchestral language. This is felt no more dramatically than in the performance of Gottschalk's only surviving operatic music, "Escenas Campestres Cubanas," an operetta first heard in Havana in 1860. The singing here of Gottschalk's perilously difficult vocal music is spirited and enthusiastic, and it represents an enormous improvement over the disastrous, heavily cut "party record" of this work made by Vox in the 1960s -- they're not even in the same league. In general, all of the music is performed with a spark and freshness that one will not find in the old Eugene List recordings that long stood as the benchmark for Gottschalk's orchestral works, and that is largely because this time Gottschalk's voice as an orchestrator is not straight-jacketed into tidy, weak pop-sounding arrangements. Featured pianist Michael Gurt turns in a dedicated and admirably virtuosic reading of the piano parts in the concertante works; his reading of the "Célèbre Tarantelle" is positively dazzling, and with Gottschalk's orchestration restored, one can hear that the soloist and orchestra are treated as a far more integrated entity than in the reduced, simplified version that has become familiar. An unexpected treat is Rosenberg's wonderful arrangement of Gottschalk's "Ave Maria," sung by early music specialist Melisa Barrick, who treats the piece as though sung by an expert boy soprano rather than in a standard operatic voice. This "Ave Maria" is so immediately appealing that it seems to have "coming to an NPR station near you" stamped all over it. However, Gottschalk has been wrongly forgotten by his own people -- Americans -- and needs precisely this kind of exposure. Additionally, this moving arrangement appropriately sets Gottschalk squarely in one of the camps where he truly belongs -- in French vocal tradition, along with Gounod and Delibes. It is hard to imagine a time when Gottschalk was considered nothing more than a hack composer of junk sheet music for use in the parlor, but that was the prevailing attitude for most of the twentieth century. The work of Rosenberg and the Hot Springs Music Festival brings into sharp focus the irrevocable fact that Gottschalk was most important, a forward-looking and consequential American composer of the nineteenth century. Everyone who knows and loves the music of Scott Joplin or Ernesto Lecuona should also know Gottschalk; Naxos' Louis Moreau Gottschalk: Complete Works for Orchestra is a grand place to start, and established fans of the composer should be turning cartwheels over its arrival.

Product Details

Release Date: 06/26/2007
Label: Naxos American
UPC: 0636943932025
catalogNumber: 8559320


  1. Symphony No. 2: "Á Montevideo", for orchestra, D. 99 (RO 257)
  2. Grande Tarantelle, for piano & orchestra, Op. 67, D. 66 (RO 259)
  3. Esceñas campestres, opera in 1 act ("Cuban Country Scenes"), D. 47 (RO 77)
  4. Variations de concert sur l'hymne portugais, for piano & orchestra, D. 157a (RO 289)
  5. Ave Maria, song for voice & piano, D. 6 (RO 10)
  6. La Caza del Joven Enrique por Méhul, gran overture for 5 pianos & orchestra, RO 54b
  7. Symphony No. 1: "La nuit des tropiques" (Night in the Tropics), for orchestra, D. 104 (RO 255)

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