The listener expecting an album's worth of original piano music by Stephen Foster doesn't really get that here. Foster's genius lay in the indissoluble connection between words and music, and he wrote very little piano music. The first half of the album, in fact, is given over to a sort of concert arrangement of three Foster songs by Elinor Remick Warren, popular on American piano programs three-quarters of a century ago, and a rarer Louisiana Suite, Op. 97, by the almost forgotten German composer Walter Niemann. This piece, published in 1924, is the most interesting item on the album, with its European ears for Foster and its way of submerging his melodies in a late Romantic flow. The individual movements are all based on familiar Foster songs (or groups of them), although they bear different titles and appear to reflect the view of the time that Foster's melodies constituted a kind of Southern folk music (indeed, the work is subtitled "based on popular songs from the Southern States of North America") even though Foster, a native of Pittsburgh, had little connection with or experience of the South. Of the genuine Foster piano works, a set of variations on Old Folks at Home (track 9) and the Old Folks' Quadrille (tracks 10-14) are lightly ornamented versions of Foster melodies, aimed at amateur musicians. The last six works on the album are original piano pieces from Foster's youth; they're not very common items, and serious Foster buffs will be glad to have them in recorded form. The two waltzes, two polkas, and schottisch are competent renditions of the dance crazes of the day, and it's interesting that the polka, which took Europe by storm in the late 1840s, had reached interior Pittsburgh just a few years later. Santa Anna's Retreat from Buena Vista is a simple, march-like piece, not the programmatic music the title might suggest. The track list title, "The Complete Piano Works and Assorted Transcriptions of Stephen Foster," would have made a more accurate if less salable title for the album, which will find a place in student and library collections of musical Americana.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Louisiana Suite, Op. 97|
|The Old Folks Quadrilles|