"THE ROMANTIC Guitar," the new album by Belgian classical guitarist Raphaella Smits, draws on works by Viennese school composers Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829) and Johann-Kaspar Mertz (1806-1856). Legend has it that Giuliani -- whose works have been popularized by Andres Segovia, Julian Bream and many others -- was seldom shy when it came to displaying his virtuosity on the instrument, but Smits's interpretations -- on eight-string guitar and other instruments -- are more notable for their clarity, subtlety and expressiveness than for their dazzle.
Not that her technique is ever in question. A student of Jose Tomas, (who also plays an eight-string guitar), Smits makes seamless work of the hovering bass lines and melodic intricacies that mark Giuliani's "Grande Overture," Op. 61. She also brings a round, bell-like tone to the ringing arpeggios that dot Mertz's compositions and to the courtly cadences that propel both his "Carneval de Venice," Op. 6, and Giuliani's "Variazioni," Op. 112.
Compared to the compositions Francisco Tarrega and others would write later in the 19th century, much of Mertz's output seems rather one-dimensional and not all that guitar-oriented in nature. Yet on "La Remembranza" and other pieces, Smits again proves her mastery by combining exceptionally fluid phrasing with a keen sense of dynamics.
RAPHAELLA SMITS -- "The Romantic Guitar" (Accent 2). Appearing Friday at the National Presbyterian Church, 4101 Nebraska Ave. NW. Call 202/291-0286.