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Louis Moreau GOTTSCHALK (1829-1869)
A Night in the Tropics
Célèbre Tarantelle (op 67, no 5) - Souvenir de Porto Rico (Marche des Gibaros) - The Dying Poet (meditation) - Tournament Galop - O! Ma Charmante - La Babanier (Chanson Nègre) - Manchega (Etude de Concert) - Célèbre Tarantelle (op 67, no 4) - Berceuse Symphonie Romantique: A Night in the Tropics: I Noche en los Tropicos; Il Festa Criolla
Hot Springs Music Festival Orchestra/Richard Rosenberg
Recorded at the First Christian Church, Hot Springs National Park, and Horner Hall, Hot Springs Civic and Convention Centre, 7-12 June 1999
NAXOS 8.559036 [60:23]
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In June each year Hot Springs, a resort in Arkansas, hosts a two-week music festival which brings together over 200 players - a mix of seasoned professionals and what the programme-note refers to somewhat quaintly as 'especially talented pre-professional apprentices' (i.e., 'gifted students'). The Festival prides itself on being 'serious in focus but casual in atmosphere'. This disc is the fruit of the 1999 festival, at which the music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk was evidently a major feature.

Born in 1829 in New Orleans, the son of an émigré London Jewish businessman and a Creole mother, he quickly showed precocious musical talent and in his late teens his piano-playing took the salons of Paris by storm, earning the approval of Chopin and Berlioz. Indeed, he was dubbed the 'Chopin of the Creoles' and became a prolific and hugely popular composer. Today, however, he is little more than a footnote in musical history, albeit one of some significance.

To the conventional romantic idiom of the day he added Creole and other Latin American colour (the first composer to do so) and, in his use of syncopation, up to a point anticipated by fifty years the music of Scott Joplin. That having been said, his music is of no great significance. It consists almost entirely of miniatures and moves in very restricted harmonic circles: most pieces feature one or two pianos, to which the orchestrations on this disc have been added by later hands. Many of them, such as the two tarantellas (with endless repeats!) and the galop, are salon pieces typical of their period: fluently crafted and exuding naïve charm, but much of a muchness, though the Berceuse - the only vocal piece in the collection - is a simple lullaby of great beauty. The piano accompaniment to this is performed on a Chickering Concert Grand dating from 1856, which Gottschalk himself once played.

The pieces where the Creole influence predominates are more arresting - especially the Marche des Gibaros and Il Festa Criolla - though Gottschalk's use of percussion (maracas, bongos and so forth), while startling in his day, now sounds routinely Latin American.

This music has clearly been prepared and recorded with great care and affection, and is well performed. It offers a fascinating glimpse into a tiny cranny of musical history and is certainly worth a £5.00 investment.

Adrian Smith

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