Sharon Isbin claims the same status as Julian Bream did in the 60's or Andrés Segovia did in the 50's – the most accomplished and skilled guitarists recording today. On disk 1 of this collection, she plays Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, a watershed that divides the flashy virtuoso from the committed artist. She soars beyond the virtuoso category, seemingly effortlessly. She plays the Adagio with seductive understatement and the Allegro gentile with finely honed contrast, alternately restrained and spectacular. In both pieces Foster's orchestral accompaniment perfectly complements her playing, with neither overshadowing the other. She handles the Fantasia para un gentilhombre with delicacy, leaving the swelling sentimental episodes for the orchestra. The contemplative mood she builds for the Españoleta invokes the sunny coast of Spain, but one smattered with shade trees and cooling breezes. Her charming effects – from fingers racing across the strings (Danza de las Háchas) to exquisite control of tricky rhythms (Canario) – make this a classy and dazzling performance.
On her request, Joseph Schwantner composed From Afar in 1987. This dark declamatory piece is a fitting flip-side to the summery Rodrigo works. Its orchestral thunder and stunning guitar accompaniment provide enough drama to shock the listener with bold imaginings. Schwantner delights in concealing the direction of his piece, filling the work with a state of constant surprise like an unpredictable lover. Isbin rises to its challenges with customary aplomb.
Disc 2, Latin Romances for Guitar, features Isbin's solo performances of nine composers' works. Her use of harmonics in Rodrigo's Invocatión y Danza is most bewitching. The visions she conjures up in Leo Brouwer's El Decamerón Negro are as mysterious as the piece's titles (for example, "Fleeing of the lovers through the Valley of the Echoes"). I have never heard Villa-Lôbos' Sentimental Melody performed in a way that is not sentimental but subtly nostalgic.
I haven't even mentioned the Albéniz yet, because words can't describe the skill Isbin displays at evoking the Mediterranean spirit of this composer's pieces like Mallorca. You'll have to buy this CD and experience it yourself.
Copyright © 2001, Peter Bates