Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806-1856)
1. Fantaisie Hongroise (Trois Morceaux, Op. 65, No. 1)
2. Fantaisie Originale (Trois Morceaux, Op. 65, No. 2)
3. Le Gondolier (Trois Morceaux, Op. 65, No. 3)
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
4. Ständchen (Schwanengesang, D957, No. 4)
Johann Kaspar Mertz
5. Romanze (Bardenklänge, Op. 13, No. 10)
6. Gondoliera (Bardenklänge, Op. 13, No. 4)
7. Lied ohne Worte (Bardenklänge, Op. 13, No. 11)
8. La Rimembranza
9. Der Leiermann (Winterreise, D911, No. 24)
Johann Kaspar Mertz
11. Nocturne (Op. 4, No. 1)
12. Aufenthalt (Schwanengesang, D957, No. 5)
title: VIENNA CONCERT
composers: Johann Kaspar MERTZ, Franz Schubert
instrument: Mirecourt guitar, about 1827, restored by luthier Bernhard Kresse
label: Soundset Recordings
catalogue number: SR1121
recording: at the Rockaway Studios, Castellón de la Plana, Spain, August 2020
producer and engineer: Javier Salvador Martin, JSM Guitar Records
cover photo: Head and tuning pegs of the Mirecourt guitar, by Marleen Peeters.
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WHAT OTHER PEOPLE SAY
About Raphaella's approach to Mertz:
“Romantic guitar at its absolute best!
This latest release from the great Raphaella Smits is not a live recording, as the title might imply, but instead a wonderful “concert” program of selections by Romantic composers Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806–1856) and Franz Schubert (1797–1828), played divinely on an 1827 French-made Mirecourt guitar with eight strings (two low basses), two of them gut.
Smits, of course, is no stranger to Mertz’s music, having performed and recorded his works many times through the years. Mertz was a virtuoso himself, and mastering his guitar music is not easy; yet Smits makes it sound almost effortless. As she writes in the liner notes, “For me, the quality of Mertz’s compositions match the greats such as Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, and Schubert. Beyond that, he had his own language: beautiful melodies, fantastic cadenzas, virtuosic passages, and with that great ever-present Romantic soul.”
Indeed, though Schubert gets (almost) equal billing, two of the three pieces by him on the album are Mertz guitar transcriptions of songs from Schubert’s posthumously published Schwanengesang collection. The Mertz pieces include the Trois Morceaux, three from the Bardenklänge, the frequently performed and truly sublime Elegie, and more. The drama and beauty of her playing on Mertz’s Fantasie Originale and La Rimembranza (which was new to me) is something to behold. But it’s all fantastic; Romantic guitar at its absolute best!”
- BLAIR JACKSON, Classical Guitar magazine.
“Raphaella Smits has not made any concessions in this recording. With her inquiring mind she has immersed herself in the spirit of the age and unveiled the guitar technical craft of the time. All works here are performed on an eight-string guitar, strung with gut strings.
Mertzian virtuosity is self-evident and is not an end in itself. With her playing she immerses the listener in the musical world of emotions of the first half of the nineteenth century. Raphaella Smits plays technically perfectly and with a flawless sense of the right style. This recording can be considered a benchmark for future performances of the works of Johann Kaspar Mertz.”
- Hein Sanderink, NL.
“Raphaella Smits has long been one of my favorite guitarists, with the perfect blend of style, virtuosity, and musicianship. Her inspired interpretations always captivate the listener, unfolding like the pages of a great novel that keep you clinging to every word.”
- Frank Koonce, USA.
“Raphaella Smits is a master at evoking moods and carries the listeners into a musical dimension whose beauty, genius and perfection border on the miraculous. Raphaella Smits is particularly fascinating by the intensity of her playing, which is permeated by an aura of perfection that only the great guitar soloists can achieve.”
- Bianca Flier, DE.
“The music itself is second to none: Mertz was a stunning composer, one of the few to carry the Romantic flag fully when writing his works. If somehow you have missed his music, Smits’ discs would be a good place to start.”
"Raphaëlla Smits, recently acclaimed by Jean Bernard at Diapason as 'one of the most delicate and cultivated artists of our time', once again surprises with her multi-awarded, as honest as dewy, meticulously 'exact' but always extremely personal rendition of two great composers. The Biedermaier atmosphere of Vienna, the glorious capital of Austria-Hungary, a time when new forms of entertainment seized their chance, comes to life in the work of composers who were very fond of the guitar instrument. For years Franz Schubert, who did not own a piano, composed most of his compositions on the guitar that hung above his bed and on which he played before getting up. In addition to his own original music, Johann Kaspar also arranged music by other composers and popular folk or folkloristic motifs. Raphaëlla Smits descends into the depths of both oeuvres; her particularly beautifully breathing dynamism and sense of unexpectedly bright detail guarantees a listening adventure full of surprises".
- Bart Stouten, Radio Klara, BE.
"Johan Kaspar Mertz may be one of the best composers of the 19th century, or at least one whose sensitivity and inspiration remain authentically romantic two hundred years later...
And whose music is treated here with extreme delicacy by a performer who had already amazed us in Manjon.
The period guitar gives a dark and sometimes intensely luminous tone; the restraint and the whole palette of nuances make this version the antithesis of a bravura piece: it avoids the most frequent misunderstanding of this music thanks to the romantic guitar of course, but above all thanks to the intelligence and the infallible taste of this remarkable interpreter!"
- Jean-Christophe Perny, Dijon, FR.
"Raphaella is something else. A very personal lyricism, unheard of nuances and cantabile on a guitar, and a touch - it's like coffee - delicate and powerful.
I think I've listened to them all, and really this last record marks an evolution, a deepening of the musical expression of this great artist, whom I will always be proud to introduce to those who don't know our classical instrument.
The sound of her instrument is I believe the heart of this enchantment. It is a guitar that has already lived a long time, it was young together with Schubert. The strings are made of gut, one would not pay attention to them, yet they literally create another world, a Verlaine-like clarity. "
- Anselmus Albini Alumnus, CH.
About the composers Mertz and Schubert:
“Johann Kaspar Mertz was a guitar virtuoso and composer from the first half of the nineteenth century and in every respect a child of his time. With the slightly older Schubert he not only shared the romantic style of writing, their personal lives also had parallels. Their genius was insufficiently recognised, setbacks and eventually illnesses overshadowed the few successes.”
“Circumstances will undoubtedly have influenced Mertz's state of mind, but the spirit of the times was the determining factor. ‘Weltschmerz', 'Sehnsucht', 'das Glück ist dort waar Du nicht bist', are, as it were, the keys that formed the starting point for composing. That is what connects Mertz and Schubert.”
- Hein Sanderink
“Mertz was a tall man, about 50, neither fat nor thin, very modest and with no hint of a pretense to greatness about him. As soon as it was feasible, I offered him my guitar and asked him to play something. He took it readily and immediately began to play. It was a fascinating large work.”
“By whom is this piece written?” I asked.
“By me”, was the answer. “It has not been published yet.”
“Then he played another piece, and still another, each one better than the last, all magnificent. I was dumbfounded with surprise and admiration. I felt like a Columbus discovering a new America, for here was the great guitar composer I had long given up hope of finding.”
- from The Memoirs of Makaroff