About this Recording
8.572306 - Guitar Recital: Bianco, Gabriel - MERTZ, J.K. / BACH, J.S / KOSHKIN, N.

Gabriel Bianco: Guitar Recital
Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806–1856): Lob der Tränen (Praise of Tears) • Capriccio
Tarantelle • Elegy • Hungarian Fantasy, Op. 65, No. 1
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750): Sonata No. 3 in C major, BWV 1005
Nikita Koshkin (b. 1956): Sonata for Guitar


Johann Kaspar Mertz, a virtuoso performer on both guitar and flute, was born in Pressburg (now Bratislava, Slovakia). He moved to Vienna in 1840 and made his concert debut at the Court Theatre of the Empress Carolina Augusta. In subsequent years, Mertz toured Moravia, Poland and Russia, gave concerts in Berlin and Dresden, and also played at the court of Ludwig of Bavaria. Shortly after his death from a heart ailment at the age of fifty, Mertz was posthumously awarded the first prize for his composition Concertino at the Brussels Competition of 1856. Mertz performed on various types of guitar, including eight- and ten-stringed instruments, from the 1840s onwards. His prolific compositions include didactic and easy pieces, concert works, arrangements of Schubert, pieces for two guitars or guitar and piano, and fantasies based on famous operatic themes. Nikolai Makaroff (1810–1890), the eminent Russian guitarist, described his playing as ‘marked by force, sweep, sensitivity, precision, expression and assurance’ and praised his skill with ‘every secret and effect of the guitar’. Despite his output of over one hundred compositions, Mertz was neglected by guitarists for many decades, a revival of interest in his creative activities being achieved with Simon Wynberg’s ten volume edition of his works (Chanterelle, 1985). Since that time his music has become a significant feature of the concert repertoire.

Lob der Tränen (Praise of Tears), is a fairly free arrangement of Schubert’s setting of a poem by Schlegel, published 1822. The poem begins:

Laue Lüfte,
Alle Lenz—und Jugendlust,
Frischer Lippen
Küsse nippen,
Sanft gewiegt an zarter Brust;
Dann der Trauben
Nektar rauben,
Reihentanz und Spiel und Scherz,
Was die Sinnen
Nur gewinnen:
Ach, erfüllt es je das Herz?

Gentle breezes,
scents of flowers,
full of spring and young desire,
stealing kisses from fresh lips,
snuggling up to a soft breast;
then stealing the nectar from grapes;
dances and games and jokes;
can the heart ever be fulfilled
with what the senses have gained?
(Translated by David Stevens)

Mertz’s guitar arrangement brings together both Schubert’s song and the essential elements of the original piano accompaniment in an artistically satisfying union.

Capriccio is from Book 3 of Mertz’s Bardenklänge (Bardic Sounds), a collection of impressionistic pieces, possibly inspired to some extent by the romantic novels of Sir Walter Scott. This Caprice has many characteristics of guitar styles of the epoch, delighting in arpeggios, snatches of tremolo, melodic sequences, and sonorous chords.

Tarantelle, from Bardenklänge, Book 6, is an exploration of this lively dance in six-eight time which originated in Taranto in southern Italy. The piece begins with a short introduction before the theme, marked Presto allegramente, makes its first appearance. The rondo-like nature of the form enables the composer to present various contrasting episodes, the mood intensifying throughout until a vivid Prestissimo coda brings matters to a thrilling climax.

Elegy, one of Mertz’s expressive masterpieces, exemplifies the spirit of romanticism in its melodic inventiveness. From the first exposition of its plaintive theme, the work develops in complexity. Following the plain chordal opening, Elegy proceeds to deeper intensity, contrasting slower sections of harmonic intricacy with sparkling arpeggios. This continues to a poignant quiet ending endowed with an almost pianistic richness of sonorities.

Finally, Hungarian Fantasy, Op. 65, No. 1, represents the virtuosic aspects of Mertz’s instrumental mastery. The first section consists of stately melodic passages progressing to a memorable Adagio maestoso with syncopated descending chords, and a deceptively calm episode marked lugubre (gloomy). This leads to one of the most remarkable examples of nineteenth-century guitar writing, an Allegro vivace section of extraordinary exuberance.

The tradition of performing J.S. Bach’s music on guitar was first established by Francisco Tárrega (1852–1909), continued by Andrés Segovia, and developed by later generations. Nowadays Bach’s genius is an integral aspect of the guitarist’s landscape, incorporating transcriptions from works for violin, cello, and keyboard.

Jaap Schröder, the distinguished violinist, has pointed out that Sonata No. 3 in C major, BWV 1005, is distinct from Bach’s other two violin sonatas as the first two movements do not have an Italianate character. The opening Adagio serves the purpose of a Prelude to the fugue, while the Fuga itself, a long chorale melody, is characteristic of the German Reformation. The Largo and Allegro assai, however, follow the inspiration of previous sonatas being influenced by the Italian sonate da chiesa with its slow-fast-slow-fast order of movements.

The serene Adagio, preparing the mood for the Fuga, is well suited for transcription to plucked strings because of its chordal nature. The predominant feature is the use of dotted rhythms and the development in places of four part harmony, very convenient for guitar or lute. The Fuga’s opening is based on an ancient sequence of Pentecost for which the text, Veni, Sancte Spiritus, was established by Pope Innocent III during the twelfth century. The German version, Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott, was adapted four hundred years later by Martin Luther. Bach used this theme in his Pentecost cantatas (BWV 59 and 175), and in the motet, BWV 226. From this noble motif emerges a massive fugal exploration comprising four separate sections of thematic entries, the second in stretto (where subject and countersubject are brought close together), the third with the main theme inverted, and a climax of close-packed polyphonic intensity. Largo, in F major, serves to release fugal tension. Against the gently flowing semiquavers of the melody, Bach added a bass line, again ideal for plucked string interpretation. Allegro assai, in binary form, has been described by Schröder as ‘fast, very open in sound, and whirls around like a spinning top’. In Bach’s score there are no accompanying notes but only a single brilliant line providing a vigorous finale to a majestic Sonata.

Nikita Koshkin, guitarist, composer and teacher, began to study music at the age of fourteen when his grandfather presented him with a guitar and a recording of Andrés Segovia. Soon afterwards he decided this would be his future career. Koshkin studied guitar under George Emanov at the Moscow Conservatory and with Alexander Frauchi at the Russian Academy of Music, and was a composition student of Victor Egorov. He achieved international fame as a composer with The Prince’s Toys (1980) and Usher Waltz (1984) and is now acclaimed as one of the major creative artists of the contemporary guitar.

The twentieth century witnessed a profound consolidation of guitar sonata traditions with composers such as Torroba, Ponce, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Berkeley, Bennett, Tippett, and Brouwer contributing to the genre. Koshkin’s Sonata for guitar solo (1997), dedicated to Elena Papandreou, is a further landmark in the repertoire. This challenging work provides a major contribution to the guitar’s significant development within modern music.

The Sonata’s three movements represent the three main elements of the form in terms of exposition, development and recapitulation. Thus the first movement opens Allegro energico, with distinctive melodic and rhythmic patterns evolving into more complex figurations. Further thematic elements emerge until an episode, Tempo primo, reminds us of the opening motif though with increasing intricacy. Then comes an extended Agitato section of great intensity, leading to a finale marked by repeated pedal notes in the treble with the theme in the bass, as heard at the outset of the piece. A tranquil lento coda concludes. A theme high up on the fingerboard, with answering chords begins the extended slow movement, Adagio molto. This develops into a melodic statement on the lower strings responded to by dissonant two-part chords. These aspects are then modified in episodes marked Più mosso, agitato, reflecting the opening of the movement, and Andantino, another motif played against bass quavers. The momentum develops steadily, Con moto, to arrive at vivid chords, reminiscent of the Agitato of the first movement. A slightly altered recapitulation of the Adagio’s opening theme then points us towards familiar territory.

The final movement, Presto, risoluto energico, is a synthesis of previous melodic and rhythmic elements both expressed and implied. A central section exploits the traditional concept of treble melody and bass accompaniment, though here the technique deploys an entirely contemporary vocabulary. This is followed by repeated pedal notes reminiscent of the first movement but now with a very different effect. The Sonata ends with a recapitulation of various characteristics of the Presto opening, re-constituted and explored in depth, culminating in a triumphantly virtuosic finale.

Graham Wade

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