Antonio Iturrioz

Gottschalk and Cuba

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Cuban-American pianist Antonio Iturrioz was a promising prodigy on the California scene whose career was derailed by a hand injury. With his understanding of the interplay between popular and classical idioms in Latin American music, he made an ideal candidate for the roster of the U.S. Steinway & Sons label with its exploration of century-old pianism. With his debut release for the label, Gottschalk and Cuba, he delivers a winner. There are several Gottschalk works here, including a piano transcription of the symphony A Night in the Tropics that goes back to a two-piano version of Gottschalk's own day. You might wish for a bit more drama in these, for Gottschalk the pianist was over the top. But the rest of the program is invaluable. Iturrioz includes not only Cuban composers influenced by Gottschalk, but one who influenced him (albeit with a work in homage to Gottschalk), Manuel Saumell. Along the way you are introduced to the contradanza and the danza, popular dances that have underlaid Cuban concert music for decades. A key figure is Hubert de Blanck, a Dutch expat who opened Cuba's first conservatory, knew Gottschalk's Cuban associates, and in turn taught Ernesto Lecuona, whose song Siempre en mi corazón almost won an Academy Award: Lecuona had the bad luck to be competing against "White Christmas." Many of Lecuona's songs exist as both vocal and piano versions, and Iturrioz catches the mix of melodicism, rhythmic roots, and harmonic subtlety effectively. Lecuona's sister and teacher, Ernestina Lecuona y Casada, is also represented. All the music is entertaining, and with the exception of the Gottschalk pieces, all are unknown, at least outside Cuba. Recommended.

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