Gottschalk: Works for Piano (Great American Piano 1, Vol. 7)

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COMPOSERS: Gottschalk
LABELS: EMI Angel
WORKS: Works for Piano (Great American Piano 1, Vol. 7)
PERFORMER: Leonard Pennario (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDM 7 64667 2 ADD
Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-69) was an extraordinary figure in 19th-century music. Born in New Orleans, he went at 13 to study with Charles Hallé in Paris where his virtuosity soon gained him celebrity status. Taking Liszt as his model, he toured widely, developing a musical style of direct appeal; after returning in 1853 to the United States, he increasingly used patriotic themes. He died of peritonitis in Brazil, during an arduous concert tour.

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With the exception of two symphonies and a one-act opera, Gottschalk’s output is dominated by shorter piano compositions, and it is these which Leonard Pennario plays. They range from the sub-Lisztian vulgarities of The Union, with its quotations from The Star-Spangled Banner and Yankee Doodle, to the more atmospheric Creole-inspired pieces such as Bamboula and Le bananier.

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This music may communicate readily but it remains difficult to play. Pennario shows artistic commitment as well as virtuosity; but in truth the disc will give most pleasure if just a few items at a time are sampled. For Gottschalk tends towards the saloon rather than the salon, whether he be mawkish or brash. However, there is no denying that he has vitality and occasionally charm. Terry Barfoot