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Gottschalk And Cuba / Antonio Iturrioz

Release Date: 09/21/2018
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30102
Composer:  Louis Moreau Gottschalk ,  Manuel Saumell ,  Nicolas Ruiz Espadero ,  Ignacio Cervantes  ...  Performer:  Antonio Iturrioz

When most people think of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869), Creole pianist and composer, they think of pieces such as The Banjo, Bamboula, The Dying Poet, and other familiar pieces. But he was so much more than that. He was America’s first important pianist-composer. He was the precursor to ragtime and early jazz and anticipated the works of Granados and Albéniz. He traveled the world and spent several years of his short, colorful and tragic life in the Caribbean where he fell in love with Cuba and its music.

This CD is a journey through 100 years of Cuban classical piano music, much of it never before recorded. The story begins with Gottschalk’s years in Cuba and is told chronologically as each important
Read more pianist-composer influenced by Gottschalk passes this influence on to the next generation, starting with Saumell to Espadero to Cervantes to de Blanck to Ernesto Lecuona and to his distinguished composer sister, Ernestina.

Album Credits:
Recorded July 2017 at Skywalker Sound, a Lucasfilm, Ltd. company, Marin County, CA
Producer/Engineer: Leslie Ann Jones
Assistant Engineer: Dann Thompson
Editing: Robert Gatley
Mastering: Michael Romanowski, Coast Mastering

Executive Producer: Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Piano Technician: Larry Lobel
Piano: Steinway & Sons #600
Production Assistant: Renée Oakford

“[Antonio Iturrioz] mesmerized audiences with his virtuosity and eloquently realized execution of this extraordinary piano transcription of La Nuit des Tropiques, Symphony Romantique."
-- Cranberry Coast Concerts, 2017

"Antonio Iturrioz's projection of the inner life in these works of Gottschalk et al is uncanny. Of course, his technical mastery is beyond complete but it is his realization of the ‘heart and soul’ of this music which is most impressive."
-- Andre Watts, March 26, 2018

Cuban-American pianist Antonio Iturrioz was a promising prodigy on the California scene whose career was derailed by a hand injury. With his understanding of the interplay between popular and classical idioms in Latin American music, he made an ideal candidate for the roster of the U.S. Steinway & Sons label with its exploration of century-old pianism. With his debut release for the label, Gottschalk and Cuba, he delivers a winner. There are several Gottschalk works here, including a piano transcription of the symphony A Night in the Tropics that goes back to a two-piano version of Gottschalk's own day. You might wish for a bit more drama in these, for Gottschalk the pianist was over the top. But the rest of the program is invaluable. Iturrioz includes not only Cuban composers influenced by Gottschalk, but one who influenced him (albeit with a work in homage to Gottschalk), Manuel Saumell. Along the way you are introduced to the contradanza and the danza, popular dances that have underlaid Cuban concert music for decades. A key figure is Hubert de Blanck, a Dutch expat who opened Cuba's first conservatory, knew Gottschalk's Cuban associates, and in turn taught Ernesto Lecuona, whose song Siempre en mi corazón almost won an Academy Award: Lecuona had the bad luck to be competing against "White Christmas." Many of Lecuona's songs exist as both vocal and piano versions, and Iturrioz catches the mix of melodicism, rhythmic roots, and harmonic subtlety effectively. Lecuona's sister and teacher, Ernestina Lecuona y Casada, is also represented. All the music is entertaining, and with the exception of the Gottschalk pieces, all are unknown, at least outside Cuba. Recommended.

-- AllMusic Guide

[This] album is a thoughtful and lovely program focusing on the underrated American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who was raised in New Orleans and spent several years in Cuba. Gottschalk and Cuba influenced each other mutually, and this album features works both by Gottschalk and by Cuban composers whom he influenced; several of these pieces are presented here in world-premiere recordings. This disc should be of particular interest to academic collections.

-- CDHotlist

“Give me your hand, my child; I predict that you will become the king of pianists.”

So said Fryderyk Chopin to American pianist and composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk, after hearing him perform at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. Alkan and Liszt also recognised Gottschalk’s impressive talents, and, perhaps in homage to his European virtuoso counterparts, there are distinctly Lisztian idioms in the Symphonie Romantique “La nuit des tropiques”, which opens Cuban-American pianist Antonio Itturioz’s new recording ‘Gottschalk and Cuba’.

The Symphonie Romantique is especially significant as this is a world premiere recording of the first American symphony, transcribed in its entirety for one piano, as Gottschalk originally intended it and based on Antonio Itturioz’s extensive research. The second movement, ‘Fiesta Criolla’, is heard in Itturioz’s own transcription for one piano for the very first time, thus making this a historic recording. In its solo piano form, the work has a Lisztian grandeur with many complex virtuosic passages and rich textures.

Gottschalk was America’s first important pianist-composer. He was also an extraordinary traveler, giving virtuoso performances in Europe, Central and South America and the Caribbean. He fell in love with Cuba and its music, and lived there for extended periods. As a composer, his music combined his Creole heritage with the American, Latin American and Afro-Caribbean influences he absorbed during his travels – all expressed within the boundaries of classical piano writing prevalent in the 19th century.

The Symphonie Romantique provides the starting point for a chronological tour through Cuban classical music, much of it never before recorded. Piano music by Manuel Saumell Robredo, Nicholas Ruiz Espadero, Ignacio Cervantes, Hubert de Blanck, and Ernesto Lecuona features on this album, revealing Gottschalk’s influence and the high regard with which he was held by those who followed him. Many of the works show the influence of nineteenth-century European virtuoso pianist-composers – Chopin, Liszt, Alkan – shot through with the distinctly Afro-Cuban, Cuban and Creole rhythms and folk idioms. There are hints of ragtime and jazz too – a reminder of Gottschalk’s wide-ranging influence on American music of the 20th century. The album closes with Gottschalk’s El Cocoye, Op 80.

Itturioz’s own Cuban heritage allows him to really get to the heart of this music, and his understanding and insight is clear from the outset. The sensuous, foot-tapping rhythms feel natural and uncontrived, heady harmonic shadings are neatly caught, while the virtuosic passages are executed with aplomb. The overall sound is warm, romantic, lush and exotic.

A generous introduction to the classical piano music of Cuba and an important contribution to the appreciation and understanding of Gottschalk’s work and influence. Includes detailed liner notes by Gottschalk biographer, Dr. S. Frederick Starr.

-- The Cross-Eyed Gottschalk and Cuba is an album which traces the influence of Louis Moreau Gottschalk on the music of Cuba for a one-hundred-year period: the earliest piece, Gottschalk's own "El Cocoye" dates from 1854, while the latest, Ernesto Lecuona's "Siempre en Mi Corazon", was recorded by the composer in RCA's New York studios in 1954 - so there's the 100 years. In between, we meet such personages as Manual Saumell (one of the earliest Cuban composers, and one who actually influenced Gottschalk - he sometimes signed his name "El Timbalero", "The Timpanist"), Nicolas Ruiz Espadero (Gottschalk's best friend in Havana), Ignacio Cervantes (who studied with Gottschalk for a while), Hubert de Blanck (a Dutch composer who settled in Cuba and was friends with Espadero and Cervantes - and who taught Ernesto Lecuona), Ernestina Leuona y Casado (Ernesto's sister and a prolific composer in her own right).

But beyond this grand overview of Gottschalk-related piano music from Cuba, the pianist, Antonio Iturrioz (who himself was born in Cuba, although he moved to the Palo Alto area with his family when he was only seven), has included a couple of world-premiere transcriptions. Perhaps the best known of these is the piano solo version of Gottschalk's "Night in the Tropics" symphony. This is the first time that the entire symphony has been performed in a solo piano version. There WAS an existing solo piano transcription of the symphony's first movement by Gottschalk's colleague, Arturo Napoleao dos Santos, but this transcription left out one of the themes (!) in this movement. Iturrioz put the theme back in, so that the movement is now complete in its solo piano form. As for the second movement, the Iturrioz performance heard on this album marks its first appearance as a solo transcription, and thus allows us to hear the entire symphony in a piano solo transcription for the first time. (There was a two-piano transcription by Nicolas Ruiz Espadero, but of course the solo version on this album is much more fearsome in its technical demands!) Iturrioz's wonderful transcriptions (made in conjunction with David de Grazia) also include Lecuona's afore-mentioned "Siempre en Mi Corazon", as well as his "Palomitas Blancas" from the same 1954 RCA sessions. These note-for-note transcriptions were made just from listening to the Lecuona recordings, since Lecuona himself never published them or even wrote them down. (They were originally songs for voice and piano.)

Another favorite track of mine is the song by Lecuona's sister, Ernestina, called "Amor Lejano" - the booklet notes compare this piece to Gottschalk's own, celebrated "The Dying Poet". Besides her own compositional output, the notes also mention that Ernestina founded a women's orchestra in Cuba (in 1937!).

The whole album contains much beautiful music, made all the more so by the excellent engineering and by Iturrioz's own beautifully nuanced performances. In contrast to some recordings, Iturrioz does not "push" the music towards overt, virtuosic displays. Instead, he keeps his tone very beautiful, no matter how complicated the pianistic texture gets! Iturrioz's refusal to "hustle things along" pays dividends throughout the album. Byron Janis has called this album "extremely interesting and very well played", while Andre Watts has called the playing on this album "fantastic".

-- Audio Asylum

Pianist Antonio Iturrioz was born in Havana, Cuba, but moved to the United States at the age of seven. He gave his first solo recital about two years later and then made his orchestra debut when he was fifteen. His selection was Franz Liszt's first piano concerto in E-flat major. His more recent efforts have been organized around the influences of Cuba on the classical piano repertoire. The results of those efforts have been compiled into a CD album entitled Gottschalk and Cuba. As might be expected, the "program" for this album begins with Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who visited Cuba in 1854 at the beginning of a series of trips to both Central and South America. Havana saw the premiere of the first movement of Gottschalk's first symphony, given the subtitle ""La nuit des tropiques"" (night of the tropics), which was performed in the winter of 1859; and the second movement was completed about fourteen months later. The premiere performance of the entire symphony involved an orchestra of over 600 players, inspired by performances that had been organized by Hector Berlioz. The piece was subsequently arranged for two pianos and published Arthur Napoleão dos Santos, one of Gottschalk's Brazilian students. Iturrioz' album begins with a two-hand version with his own transcription of the second movement, an Allegro moderato given the title "Fiesta Criolla." I must confess that my awareness of this composition has previously been limited to the original version, which I know primarily through the recording that Maurice Abravanel made with the Utah Symphony Orchestra. I am not sure of the size of the resources he brought to the recording sessions; but I am pretty sure that Abravanel was among the first (if not the first) to record Gustav Mahler's eighth symphony (known as the ""Symphony of a Thousand"") with an American ensemble, making 600 players seem comparatively like a walk in the park! I should also confess that, with the exception of Ernesto Lecuona, the names of all the other composers on Gottschalk and Cuba were unfamiliar to me (just as were the three Lecuona selections included on the album). Nevertheless, I was struck by the impact of Gottschalk's presence in Cuba through "memorial" compositions dedicated to him composed by Manuel Saumell and Nicolas Ruiz Espadero (the latter being the source of a world premiere recording). I was also surprised to learn that Lecuona had a sister, Ernestina Lecuona y Casada, whose "Amor Lejano" was another world premiere recording on the album. Beyond those few examples, however, I feel as if I am very much still on a "learning curve" when it comes to music composed in Cuba. As a result, I expect that I shall wish to revisit this album several times to build up more familiarity. Music in Cuba clearly involved far more than jazz clubs that attracted the likes of Americans such as Dizzy Gillespie; and the Cuban legacy certainly did not gain anything from Fidel Castro, who never seemed to try to hide his general disinterest in music.

-- The Rehearsal Studio"

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