Notes and Editorial Reviews
With Schubert’s music, Mertz’s arrangements, and Leisner’s playing, one must have a heart of stone to resist becoming, for a half hour at least, a thorough romantic.
David Leisner claims that Johann Kasper Mertz (1806–1856) was the preeminent romantic composer for the guitar. This winsomely performed and elegantly recorded program strongly supports this claim. Why then have so few of us heard of Mertz? Leisner explains this as the negative influence of Andrés Segovia, who reestablished the guitar as a classical concert instrument, but did not like Mertz. Surely there is more to it than this, however. The Germans, Austrians, and Czechs hardly required a Spanish virtuoso to remind them of their musical past. The
concert guitar simply went out of fashion in the era dominated by bigger-than-life pianists and violinists, 100-piece symphony orchestras, and grand opera.
Leisner refers to Mertz’s works as “character pieces.” One might also call them miniature tone poems; music as well as words can summon up moods, feelings, and even suggest scenes. Mertz deserves to be ranked with masters such as Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Liszt in creating this musical poetry. Like Liszt, Mertz enjoyed borrowing melodies from others, along with the poetic inspiration that created them. But he had a great gift for original melody as well. His Fingal’s Cave, for instance, is not a musical borrowing from Mendelssohn, but his own idea of that North Atlantic scene.
David Leisner has decades of experience performing, composing, and teaching. His technique is comprehensive, and often understated. He obviously cares little for dazzling display as such. But in subtle—and, when necessary, not so subtle—ways he dazzles anyway. He can bring two or three distinct voices from his classical guitar simultaneously and, when necessary, make it sound like an orchestra of guitars. But most of all he finds the poetic meaning in the melodies, harmonies, and rhythms. Mertz’s arrangements of Schubert make them songs without words. However, Leisner’s comprehensive notes remind us of what each song is about. With that help, plus Schubert’s music, Mertz’s arrangements, and Leisner’s playing, one must have a heart of stone to resist becoming, for a half hour at least, a thorough romantic.
-- Robert McColley, FANFARE [4/2004]
Works on This Recording
Elégie by Johann Kaspar Mertz
David Leisner (Guitar)
Written: 19th Century; Hungary
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