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SACD Review

Gottschalk / Gould

  • Louis Moreau Gottschalk:
  • A Night in the Tropics
  • Grand Tarantelle for Piano and Orchestra (arranged by Hershy Kay)
  • Morton Gould: Latin American Symphony
Reid Nibley, piano
Utah Symphony Orchestra/Maurice Abravanel
Vanguard VSD500 Hybrid SACD
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Not so long ago I reviewed a CD that contained a lot more of his music (on Naxos) and at that time I wrote the following:

Anybody who is a serious listener of classical music must listen to this Gottschalk disc. Louis Moureau Gottschalk (1829-69) was the first truly "American" composer. I say this because his music is the first that truly tapped the language, utilizing Creole and Black music as part of the web he wove. His music is Whitmanesque, and even Ivesian at moments. All of it is delightful and some of it memorable. For example, the piano melody that floats above the orchestral garb of "Célèbre Tarantelle" is still haunting my memory as I write this. The music here was arranged and orchestrated by others, some of who were the composer's friends, but it all sounds from the same cloth. It is truly "American". You will find the notes biographically interesting and even enchanting. The sound is excellent, too.

My first exposure to his music, however, was from the Vanguard LP from which this CD comes and at the time I wrote the above I had only memories as a reference. I have since then corrected that error. Unless you have more than one instance you don't have the concept. What I am saying is that listening to Abravanel's recording has significantly changed my thinking about the Naxos release because now I have a clearer concept of what is possible in Gottschalk's music.

Basically, the Vanguard disc is to the music as Stokowski is to HIP recordings. The music making is lush, sonorous, and sensual. It is not, however, saccharine. It offers, along with Gould's appropriate coupling, a wonderful evening of music where you can sit, smoke your pipe and relax.

The Naxos is good and it is nice to have all of these pieces available for us to hear much of the composer's music other than what is on the Vanguard disc, but it might best be described as Gottschalk-lite. The orchestra sounds small, the piano almost like an upright compared to a grand with Nibley playing with a fluidity that is spectacular. The Naxos recording may be, in fact, how the music sounded when it was performed in his day (kind of historically informed performances if you will) but I think the composer would have preferred Abravanel. So do I. The Vanguard sound is far superior to this Naxos release, especially in the SACD format, and brings a Romantic element to the music that is just plain missing in Rosenberg's performances.

Copyright © 2002, Robert Stumpf II