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Giulio REGONDI (1822-1872)
Premier Air Varié, Op. 21 [10:24] – Rêverie, Op. 19 [9:28] – Étude No. 4(b) [3:08] – Deuxième Air Varié, Op. 22 [10:58]
Johann Kaspar MERTZ (1806-1856)
From Bardenklänge (Bardic Sounds), Op. 13: Polonaise No. 1 [2:23] – Polonaise No. 2 [5:48] – Polonaise No. 3 [4:09] – Polonaise No. 4 [4:32] – Polonaise No. 5 [5:21] – Polonaise No. 6 [4:41] – Polonaise No. 7 [3:56] – Rondino [7:02]
Ricardo Gallén (guitar)
rec. Green Room, Offord Hall, Aurora, Ontario, Canada, 12–16 September 2002
NAXOS 8.555285 [71:50]


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These two composers, although not exact contemporaries, can be regarded as heirs to Sor and Giuliani. Both were brilliant guitarists of course; at this time practically no one wrote guitar music if he wasn’t a guitarist himself. Today they are not as well-known as their predecessors or the generation coming after them e.g. Tarrega ... to non-guitarists, that is. To guitarists they are a well-known quantity and, to quote Colin Cooper’s illuminating booklet notes: “After the huge wave of guitar popularity in the early part of the nineteenth century had subsided, the talents of Regondi and Mertz shine like lighthouses over a dark sea.” They were also held in high esteem during their lifetime. Regondi for instance had a composition by Sor dedicated to him and he performed with musicians of the calibre of pianist Ignaz Moscheles, singer Maria Malibran and pianist Clara Schumann. He composed surprisingly little for the guitar. The bulk of his oeuvre was written for concertina, an instrument he also played to perfection. The rest of his guitar compositions are available on Naxos 8.554191.

The Étude No. 4(b) on this disc is thought to be a transcription of a concertina piece, but hearing it who would think it was conceived for anything other than the guitar. The two long variations, or Air Variés, have roughly the same structure: slow introduction, singable theme and a number of virtuoso variations.

Ricardo Jesús Gallén Garcia, as his full name reads, already has an impressive discography which has been highly acclaimed. Hearing him playing these admittedly intricate pieces one has to join in the ovations. His tremolo playing, a technique that Regondi employs frequently, is exemplary. The Reverie, Op. 19 shows him to the best advantage. Overall he is very careful with dynamics and there is an ebb and flow in the playing that keeps the music constantly alive. There are a number of annoying extraneous noises – the usual guitarists’ dilemma with fingers grating against strings – but not to such an extent as to spoil the listening pleasure. Since I haven’t seen the music I don’t know if there are any indications about pauses between the variations in the two Air Variés, but my spontaneous reaction was that I would have preferred them to follow en suite instead of chopping up the composition into separate pieces.

Mertz may be better-known to present-day listeners, not least because he cultivated the once so popular method of presenting popular operatic melodies and other tunes in elaborated medleys or Opern-Revue - something that virtuoso pianists like Thalberg and Liszt also practised. Instead of these we get a substantial part of his large collection Bardenklänge, the rest of which is to be found on Naxos 8.554556. Living in Vienna, which was in the nineteenth century a melting-pot for music from practically all Europe and Mertz and the polonaise became firm favourites among the Viennese. The seven polonaises included here are all virtuoso pieces and finely contrasted. I find Mertz’s harmonic thinking sometimes bolder than Regondi’s, although neither of them is very adventurous in this regard.

All of this is very attractive music and played so convincingly that it can easily stand repeated hearing without seeming bland.

Since Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver are responsible for the technical side one can take it for granted that this disc, like so many of its predecessors, goes straight into the top-ten list for guitar recordings.

Göran Forsling

see also Review by Zane Turner






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