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Michael Lewin, a spectacular Boston-based pianist, makes a most persuasive case for this unusual music. Were it not for Mr Lewin's unimpeachable authority and breathtaking virtuosity, the worthier elements of it all might have been lost. In his able hands, for example, The Banjo -- Gottschalk's most well known work and in some ways the Yankee equivalent of Liszt's Mephisto Waltz -- jumps off the page with gusto and a life all its own. In O, Ma Charmante, Epargnez Moi (O, My Charmer, Spare Me!) Mr Lewin gives voice to the expressive West Indian dances that inspired it. Ojos Criollos (Creole Eyes) is a Cuban Dance, a kind of tango that ingratiates itself with a certain robust ardency. Both La Bananier (The Banana Tree) and La Savane (named after the Savannah River) are likewise sultry evocations of southern life; in these, Mr Lewin seems to the manor born, investing them with just the kind of languorous affect they demand. Then there is the eponym of this recording, Bamboula, in which Gottschalk duplicates, in pianistic categories, the sounds of strumming banjoes and African drums. Here Mr Lewin plays with joy and abandon, to be sure, but also with a steely interpretive and technical discipline that transforms effect into substance.

Though an anomaly of sorts in the history of western art music, Gottschalk offered a profound metaphor for the best and worst of American culture. On the surface, the music is brash, ebullient, jaunty, but also technically well crafted and even refined. And yet behind the furious flurry of notes there is something more: a distillation, even a celebration, if you will, of plurality and multi-culturalism. Even in these troubled times, can anything be more American -- or musical -- than that?

Copyright © 13 April 2003 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA



CRC 2549 NEW RELEASE 2002 Centaur Records

Michael Lewin, piano

Piano Music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk: Le Banjo Op 15; Souvenir de Porto Rico, marche des gibaros Op 31; Ricordati Op 26; Pasquinade Op 59; O, Ma Charmante, épargnez-moi!, caprice Op 44; Manchega, étude de concert Op 38; Polka in B-flat; Souvenir de Lima, Mazurka Op 74; Ojos Criollos, danza cubana Op 37; Ynés ; Berceuse Op 47; Le Bananier, chanson nègre Op 5; La Savane, ballade créole Op 3; Ballade; Bamboula, danse de nègres Op 2



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