Steven Mayer

Louis Moreau Gottschalk: A Night in the Tropics - Solo Piano Music

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American Jewish-Creole composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk has been best known for his ability to render African-American rhythms in musical notation and concert form decades before anyone else did. Pianist Steven Mayer heads up the program on this Naxos release with Le Banjo, Op. 15, one of Gottschalk's best-known compositions featuring the rhythm that would become known as ragtime, as if to concede this point and then go on to something else. Indeed, Gottschalk wrote a lot of music in other genres (much of it lost, but some of that still potentially findable again), and Mayer's real service here is to give the rest of Gottschalk's oeuvre some exposure. Gottschalk made a living as a touring virtuoso, mostly in South America, and his powers were apparently on par with the famed European composer/pianists of the day. This can be heard in the larger pieces like the Grande Fantaisie triomphale sur l'hymne national brésilien, Op. 69 (Grand Triumphal Fantasy on the Brazilian National Hymn), but the slower compositions really catch the ear here. Listen to the Fantôme de bonheur (Ilusions perdues), Op. 36: it's overwrought, sure, but that's almost the point. The music starts where Chopin left off and has a very late-Romantic inwardness and, in several pieces, harmonic sophistication. One can only guess at what it was like to hear Gottschalk in person, but Mayer gives an idea. He includes his own piano arrangement of Gottschalk's orchestral La Nuit des tropiques, something Gottschalk wouldn't have hesitated to do. With flawlessly appropriate sound from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York, this is an essential Gottschalk release.

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