April 15, 2002


Dennis Cinelli: The Guitar in Vienna
La Bella CD 5 00002-2. Richard Mari Cocco, prod.; Howard Post, eng. DDD. TT: 58:31.

Musical Performance *****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

O'Brien/Cinelli Duo: Two Guitars In Vienna: Guitar Duets by Johann Kaspar Mertz
Destiny Records 2002-2. Pat O'Brien, Dennis Cinelli, prods.; Jeff Basso, eng. DDD. TT: 58:33.

Musical Performance *****
Recording Quality *****
Overall Enjoyment *****

You're probably thinking that this is pretty esoteric stuff. After all, unless you're a student of 19th-century guitar music -- and perhaps not even then -- you won't have heard of Johann Kaspar Mertz, Napoleon Conte, Franz Abt or even Mauro Giuliani, all of whom have compositions on these discs. Anton Diabelli is probably the best-known name here -- and even he's more renowned as a music publisher than a composer. But trust me, these two discs are filled with delightfully intimate, tuneful music. That they're also well recorded just adds to their luster.

Dennis Cinelli is a guitarist and lutenist who has performed throughout the US and Europe. He specializes these days in the guitar literature of the 19th century and is writing a book on guitar techniques and literature of that era. He has been on the faculty of Montclair State University since 1989.

Patrick O'Brien teaches at the Mannes School of Music and the State University of New York. He has taught guitar, lute, and early harp in New York City for over 30 years. He has recorded with Paul O'Dette and Andrew Lawrence King's Harp Consort. On Two Guitars in Vienna, he plays terz guitar (tuned three tones higher than a "normal" guitar), which is the instrument Mertz composed his music for.

Mr. Cinelli plays a replica of a 19th-century ten-string guitar and an antique (ca 1830) six-string instrument constructed by J.G. Staufer.

The reason I go into all this minutia on the instruments is that these two discs are wonderfully detailed recordings that feature the sounds of these specific instruments -- and they sound nothing like the contemporary guitar. The six- and ten-string guitars have remarkably mellow, warm signature sounds. Actually, so does the terz -- it may have a slightly higher voice, but it still sounds subdued compared to the bright zing of the modern instrument. Of course, a lot of that distinct sound comes from the period strings the two employ -- we're talking gut and silver-wrapped gut here.

The music on both discs is tuneful and lively. It's not actually dance music, but it's dance-like -- remember, we're talking about the music of Vienna here. It has some of the vocal quality of Schubert mixed with the muscular hummability of Strauss. It's light without being insubstantial and it is definitely not cloying. What it is, mainly, is beautiful.

If I had to choose one of them, I'd give the nod to the duo disc -- the two musicians achieve a marvelous rapport, and you can definitely hear the thrill of communication as they pass the melodic lines back and forth.

I'd also rate the sound somewhat better on Two Guitars in Vienna. While both discs display a lovely intimacy, Two Guitars puts the instruments more palpably in the room with you -- plus you get a delightful contrast between the different instruments.

But I'm glad I don't have to pick one over the other because Mr. Cinelli's solo outing has beaucoup de charm. Both recordings are ideal vessels for navigating those early mornings or late evenings when one wants to be lulled by tuneful ease rather than challenged by music for music's sake. I listen to them both frequently and relish their quiet wit and tuneful amiability.

Try 'em, you'll like 'em.

...Wes Phillips

Both discs can be ordered directly by visiting

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