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Romantic Serenade: Duos by Sor and Mertz

ACOUSTIC Magazine,

Fernando Sor and Johann Kaspar Mertz led the way in developing the classical guitar repertoire by exploring the duet. Here, two Englishmen take their music into a Hampshire church and whip up a sparkling confection, bursting with the kind of elegant, courtly melodies you might find floating above a Viennese masked ball. Many of these compositions originally featured the high-strung terz guitar; here the simple use of a capo captures that same rippling clarity over the supporting standard-tuned instrument and allows for a wonderful contrast in tone between the two players. Burley plays immaculately throughout, while Feeley matches him stride for stride.

Steve Bennett - Acoustic Magazine

Burley and Feeley are both based in the UK,where they enjoy active careers as soloists and chamber musicians. This program, under the title “Romantic Serenade”, mixes two generations of romantic guitar duos in satisfying performances. Fernando Sor (1778-1839) is the older of the two, and his music has more in common with Haydn or early Beethoven than his romantic contemporaries. He wrote various duos and several fantasias for solo guitar using the same formal pattern: a slow, singing introduction; variations; a concluding dance. He was sufficiently skilled as a composer that each of the works has its own character, rather than seeming like clones of each other. Still, one wouldn’t normally program two or more of them, unless (as here) separated by contrasting material.

That contrasting material is what is of interest here. Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806-1856) is of the next generation, with a fully romantic language closer to Weber or Schubert. His music has become quite popular with guitarists, though I’ve always found much of his solo music unconvincing. It seems overcomposed, lurching from climax to climax without rest, as if the audience needed to be stimulated all the time. It can be quite difficult to manage convincingly.

But these duos are simpler music, expressive but not overblown. They were written for a guitar and a terz guitar, tuned a minor third higher (if one can’t find the instrument, a capo at the third fret makes a workable substitute), and that slight difference in range also makes for a more interesting timbral effect. Burley and Feeley have an excellent ensemble and a blended and lovely tone. Their playing is more elegant than exciting, but that’s just fine for these works. There is no mention about the artists in the notes.

KEATON - American Record Guide