REGONDI: Airs Varies / Reverie, Op. 19 / MERTZ: Bardenklange, Op. 13 (Ricardo Gallen) (Naxos: 8.555285)
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Giulio Regondi (1822-1872)
Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806-1856)
If the Romantic movement came as a surprise, it wasonly because its immediate predecessor, the Classicalperiod, was seen as a natural development of theBaroque period, but this new development in musicwas a strong reaction, a swing in another direction.
Both Mertz and Regondi carried on the composerperformertradition of Sor and Giuliani a generationbefore, as did their contemporaries Coste and Ferranti.
It was considered the norm. Not until the twentiethcentury, when Segovia, Bream and others approachedother composers instead of writing their own music,did guitarists have a broad-based repertoire to drawfrom. Another factor in the guitar's slow developmentwas its denial by the teaching academies of the time.
The keybound nature of its fingerboard meant that onlya few bright talents found the tonal freedom, the abilityto change key instantaneously, that pianists havealways taken for granted.
What the guitar could do, however, it did well.
Regondi and Mertz found inspiration in the pianomusic of Chopin, Mendelssohn and Schumann, andadapted elements of their music into their own creativeprocesses. After the huge wave of guitar popularity inthe early part of the nineteenth century had subsided,the talents of Regondi and Mertz shine like lighthousesover a dark sea.
Giulio Regondi had a disturbed early life. HisGerman mother seems to have vanished early in hischildhood, and it was his Italian father (or stepfather,by some accounts) who brought him up and, a guitaristhimself, presumably gave him his first lessons on theguitar. Teaching, however, gave way to exploitation,and when this manipulator disappeared with the youngprodigy's earnings, Giulio had a hard time of it. Thehelp of friends and his own resilience ensured survival,though we shall never know how far this early traumacontributed to his untimely death at the age of fiftyfrom a painful cancer.
Unlike many child prodigies, Regondi maturedinto an artist of poetic genius. His reputation increasedaccordingly. In childhood he had met and played inconcert with the guitarist Catherine Josepha Pelzer(Madame Sidney Pratten). Fernando Sor dedicatedSouvenir d'Amitie, Op.46, to him, and he was to giveconcerts with musicians such as the pianist IgnazMoscheles, the singer Maria Malibran and the pianistClara Schumann, all musicians at the top of theirprofession.
Regondi's guitar compositions reflect not only hisgentle nature but also the high romanticism of hisperiod. The discovery by Matanya Ophee of 10 Etudes,previously thought to be lost, compelled a revaluationof Regondi's contribution. The two Airs Varies, Op.22,and Op.23, can only reinforce the new respect thatensued. Each begins with a slow introduction,followed by an Andante theme, slightly operatic incharacter, after which come a number of variations(four in Op.22, five in Op.23) that show off theresources of the instrument: brilliant passages ofdemisemiquavers (32nd notes), a minor-key tremolo,consecutive ninths and triplets.
Study No.4b is not one of the 10 Etudes referred toabove, but is thought to be a transcription of one ofRegondi's pieces for concertina, which he played tovirtuoso standard and for which he composed manymore pieces than he ever wrote for the guitar. Thissurviving study has a form typical of Regondi: a highmelody supported by broken chords in the bass. Itsuggests Schumann, but is very much Regondi's own.
The tremolando technique is designed to give aplucked instrument the illusion of sustaining power.
Regondi's extended use of the form in R?¬verie, Op.19,dwarfs even Tarrega's later and much-playedRecuerdos de la Alhambra, and makes it a favouriteamong guitarists. A slow introduction is followed byclusters of gossamer-like hemidemisemiquavers (64thnotes) before the tremolo section is heard. The longline of an eloquent bass aria interrupts this flow beforea harmonically interesting chord sequence returns thepiece to its tremolando substance.
Limited knowledge of Regondi's output led in thepast to critical undervaluation, but a deeperacquaintance has revealed that his music is as worthy ofattention as the majority of other works composedduring the Romantic period. Few composers of the timeknew their instruments as intimately as Regondi knewthe guitar and the concertina. He was unique.
Johann Kaspar Mertz was born in what was then theHungarian city of Pozsony, later Pressburg, nowBratislava. He settled in Vienna, where he had the goodsense, or the good luck, to be taken up by royalty. Hislife was not an easy one but, unlike Regondi, histroubles came later, in adulthood. Concerts had to becancelled through illness; and insurrection andrevolution deprived him of pupils and the income theybrought. To cap everything, his pianist wife JosephinePlantin nearly killed him with an accidental overdose ofstrychnine prescribed for his neuralgia. On the otherhand, she did introduce him to the piano works ofChopin, Schumann and Mendelssohn, and they provedto be powerful influences in his own compositions.
Musical taste in nineteenth-century Viennaembraced music from virtually every nearby nation.
The Polish polonaise was a favourite, and Schubertwrote six of them for piano duet. Mertz went one betterwith his seven; like Schubert's, they conform more tothe popular Viennese perception of the form -something to be played rather than danced - than to theoriginal Polish model. Like Schubert's, they have acontrasting trio section before a repeat to the beginning.
They form part of Bardenklange (Sounds of Bards), animmense work containing nearly thirty pieces of widevariety.
Another work in Bardenklange is Rondino. Itbegins with a majestic march in A minor that isfollowed by a graceful section in A major before themain rondo-like body of the work, more classical instyle than romantic but needing the technique of avirtuoso to do justice to the idiomatic writing for theguitar. It contains few harmonic surprises, but it doesindicate that Mertz must have been, like Regondi, aguitarist of outstanding ability.
One of his admirers was a wealthy Russian,Nikolay Makarov, to whom we owe a rare descriptionof Mertz: \A tall man, about fifty years of age, neitherfat nor thin, very modest. His playing was marked bypower, energy, feeling, clarity and expression". It wasMakarov who in 1856 offered two prizes for the bestguitar composition. Mertz's Op.65 was judged thewinner, but the composer died before he could receivethe award. Like Regondi, he had lived for only fiftyyears but had greatly enriched the guitar repertoire.Colin Cooper