Italian (specifically Neapolitan) pianist Francesco Caramiello doesn't always have the kind of ease a Western-hemispheric native would feel in these works. But it's a rare pianist of the Americas who would put them together in a single program -- and make the delightful discovery that they have a good deal to say to each other. Taken in isolation, the performances here are a mixed bag: no one is going to choose Caramiello's Gottschalk or Gershwin pieces from among the myriad versions available, although for some listeners his smooth version of Busoni's Indianisches Tagebuch (Indian Diaries) might be optimal, and the intimate humor of Leonard Bernstein's Four Anniversaries for piano seem to be to his personal taste. The virtue of the disc lies rather in the whole. The booklet notes by Mark Mitchell identify the well-worn notion of eclecticism as a defining feature of American concert music, but the listener will be able to extend that list after listening to Caramiello's performance. It is striking, for instance, to realize the degree to which American nationalism was long connected with scales and modes, treated distinctively even in the Sea Pieces, Op. 55, of Edward MacDowell, the most European-aspiring of the American composers represented here. The inclusion of the Busoni is meant not to provide a reference point for Italian hearers but rather to convey the primacy of pitch content in earlier conceptions of what an American national music might be like. Later, of course, rhythm could not help but play a larger role, and the contrast between Gershwin's wholehearted acceptance of African-American rhythms and Aaron Copland's much more nervous accommodation adds an intriguing new dimension to the program. But the feel of the music in Caramiello's hands never radically shifts gears; MacDowell and Gershwin, and the other composers, seem linked by a certain optimism that might indeed be hard for an American performer to bring out in quite the same way as it appears here. An intelligent and well-executed recital.
Music from America Review
by James Manheim