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Warm Up With Guitar Souvenirs of Spain and Italy

Souvenirs of Spain and Italy Sharon Isbin, guitar. Pacifica Quartet: Simin Ganatra and Austin Hartman, violin. Mark Holloway, viola. Brandon Vamos, cello. Eduardo Leandro, castanets/tambourine. Cedille 90000 190 Total Time: 61:36 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****

Guitarist Sharon Isbin joins forces with the Pacifica Quartet in this new release featuring mostly Italian music with a brief flirtation with Spain. Early this month, they performed most of these pieces in a concert in New York where a new work by Joseph Schwantner, Song of A Dreaming Sparrow, was premiered at 92NY’s Kaufman Concert Hall. The concert was an excellent opportunity to enjoy these works in their intimate exploration of sound between the string quartet and guitar with the earlier pieces, which are on this new release, being fine examples of the way the guitar’s sound blends in that setting.

The release begins though with a mid-20th Century work by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968). The composer is perhaps best known for his 1939 guitar concerto, a work that firmly entered the repertoire and was originally written for the great Andres Segovia. Roughly a decade later, Segovia would again inspire the composer to create a new work, this time for the combination of string quartet. The Quintet for Guitar & String Quartet (1950) is in the composer’s more traditional modernist romantic language and is cast across four traditional movements. The melodic writing is quite stunning in this work with its second movement being very beautiful both melodically and in its interesting harmonic shifts. A bit of Spanish infusion occurs in the center of this movement and also later in the spirited finale which features a habanera rhythmic pattern. As one of the significant chamber pieces for guitar, it certainly deserves more attention and as an opener here it’s profile is certainly raised.

The palette cleanser between this and the other 20th-century piece is an arrangement of a lute concerto by Vivaldi, Concerto in D, RV 93. In Emilio Pujol’s adaptation, the cello is given the “basso continuo” role with the second violin assigned to the viola instead. It thus moves us into a sort of trio sonata feel. It is interesting to hear the attack and sound of the guitar against the other instruments here. The outer allegros frame a delicate Largo which includes some new ornamentation added by Isbin. The final movement references Italian dance music.

Joaquin Turina’s (1882-1949) La oracion del torero, Op. 34 (1925) is heard in its version for string quartet. Originally written for four lutes, the popularity of the work was secured when the composer rearranged it for both this combination as well as string orchestra, or piano trio. It is a fine work of the new Spanish nationalist modern composers.

The album is bookended by guitar quintets and so we conclude with one in D Major (G. 448) by Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805). The composer’s travels brought him into contact with a variety of musical styles that found their way into his delightful pieces. This is one such work that blends the new cosmopolitan elegance of Classicism with hints of folkish music, here a flamenco strumming style is employed in the third movement which is a fandango. The glissandi also provide an exciting effect and color. Some auxiliary percussion add a little extra flair to the work which is a sort of compilation of other pieces that Boccherini used to create this work for a Spanish nobleman who wanted some of his music to play.

The release has a fine program of music that is performed with a great sense of energy and commitment. Balance between the guitar and quartet works very well throughout with a somewhat drier acoustic. Isbin’s playing is, as always, quite beautiful which often belies from the technical virtuosity that is also on display as well. The performances here are all quite engaging and the album is worth tracking down for the outer quintet pieces easily which are excellent works on their own.


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