Not much is known of the life of Giulio Regondi. According
to the liner notes and what
I’ve been able to find in online sources, he was born in
Geneva to a German mother and Italian father. Father, a widower
not long after Giulio’s birth, appeared intent on creating
a prodigy and locked the young boy in a room, forcing him
to spend hours a day practising the guitar. By the time the
boy was seven they were on the road, at large in Europe,
performing for the likes of Liszt and Paganini. After being
introduced to the concertina during his time in Britain,
he mastered the instrument, acting in great part on the surge
in its popularity. Regondi kept an unwavering focus on these
two instruments, the guitar and the concertina, in not only
his performances but also in his composition.
The pieces on this nicely-recorded disc are touted by the liner notes as among
the most difficult and demanding works written for concertina. The opening Remembrance for
Baritone Concertina - which plays an octave lower than the Concertina - is
a late piece, published during Regondi’s last year. It comprises a theme and four
variations, preceded by an opening Larghetto, which gets things started
off on a rather sentimental note. The somewhat wistful theme picks things up
a bit, and the slower song-like third variation is quite beautiful, with long
singing lines that lead to the brighter, more outgoing final variation, with
just enough syncopation to keep things off-kilter.
The following Set of Three Waltzes composed thirty
years earlier, are delightful light miniatures with wide
leaps in register and a demand for great
control over dynamics. Especially enjoyable is the middle section of the second
waltz, which gives a weightier statement before moving back to the lighter
main theme. These pieces most clearly show Regondi aiming
to put smiles on the faces
of his audience.
Composed with more of an aim to impress is the Hexameron of
1853, a melodic clutch of six virtuosic etudes intended
to be performed of a piece. Precise attention
to voicing is explored in the opening etude, with a singing melodic line that
should be heard over the rapidly arpeggiated notes that swirl around it. Much
sensitivity in playing is required in order for this to work well, and Helmut
Jacobs performs these pieces admirably. The second tackles rapidly-repeated
notes in the melodic line, with staccato chordal support.
Another standout in this
piece is the closing sixth etude, with its widely-leaping rapid runs and some
surprising chord changes along the way.
Another late piece, published in the year Regondi died,
is the Souvenir d’amitié,
which begins rather ominously, but brightens up into a gently undulating melody.
This at times recalls some popular pieces arranged for parlour reed organ,
another instrument gaining a foothold at the time of Regondi’s death. The final movement
is dance-like and charming, interspersed with short, more introspective sung
sections before kicking up its heels with a sparkling close
The pieces here aren’t, and weren’t intended, perhaps, to be especially weighty.
Overall, they are quite pretty and enjoyable, striking in their confidence and
affinity for the instrument that they helped make famous. The liner notes are
not only helpful, but also quite interesting, giving various technical details
of the concertina.
Helmut C. Jacobs makes a strong argument for these pieces
and plays them deftly, showing them in a most appealing
light. I found it a rather unusual recording
to be chosen for release in surround sound SACD. Concertina music? In surround
sound? Orchestral or even ensemble music seems, from past hearing, to be best
suited to such a medium. I’m not sure what the extra sense of aural space an
SACD could add to this recording, but hearing it on a regular player the sound
is very good, with a satisfying intimacy and accompanying ambience of the performance
Various recordings of Regondi’s guitar works are available, both on Naxos and
Guild, but I’ve not seen the works presented on this MDG disc released previously.
Overall, these are quite well-presented and pleasing, recommended especially
for those who enjoy the lighter music of the mid-nineteenth century.