“Souvenirs of Spain and Italy” – Sharon Isbin, guitar/ Pacifica Quartet – Cedille

by | Nov 7, 2019 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

“Souvenirs of Spain and Italy” = CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO: Guitar Quintet, Op. 143; VIVALDI (arr. Pujol): Concerto in D, RV 93; TURINA: La oracion del torero; BOCCHERINI: Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D, G. nres. 448 – Sharon Isbin, guitar/ Pacifica Quartet – Cedille CDR 90000 190, 61:36 ****:

Sharon Isbin just keeps churning out the hits, and this new release is guaranteed to please her legion of fans. Joining her is the always sterling Pacifica Quartet, who add a polished and incisive sheen to all these performances.

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco encountered Andres Segovia in 1932, then at the beginning of his career, and this meeting inspired a set of variations for the guitarist, followed intermittently by numerous guitar works the rest of the composer’s life, including one of the first—and best—contemporary concertos for the instrument, and the present quintet. What is surprising is that he didn’t follow up with successive issues in either of the genres. But when he fled from Italy (his home) to Los Angeles, it was another encounter with Segovia that gave rise to this delightful, multifaceted quintet.

The Vivaldi, well known and beloved, is given in an arrangement that is edited by Isbin, successfully, though I must admit that I still prefer a larger orchestra. This one stands out among modern period style performances, which are fine in and of themselves, though I must admit, perhaps anachronistically, to the lush and gorgeous treatment the Paul Kuentz Chamber Orchestra gives Narciso Yepes and his magnificently resonant ten-string string guitar. But Vivaldi is Vivaldi, and always a delight to hear.

Luigi Boccherini gravitated from Italy to Vienna, to Paris, where he met the Spanish ambassador to France, who then wasted little time in persuading him to move to Madrid. It was a life-altering experience, and the composer remained there the rest of his life. The guitar, which was not really in a stable form at the time, was catching on across the continent, but really appreciated in Spain, where its development flourished. Boccherini ended up creating about a dozen quintets for the instrument, none of them original, but adapted from existing works. Of these, number four, with its sparkling fandango finale, has proved to be one of the most popular. Strange that adaptations created from a stew of other compositions end up being among the most revered compositions; yet Boccherini also scored big with his cello works, as he was a virtuoso himself.

La oracion del torero (The Bullfighter’s Prayer) is a short work by another composer who responded bountifully to the Segovia call, Joaquin Turina. Originally for lute quartet, the composer came to understand that the piece, reflecting the moments a bullfighter spends in a chapel before a fight, would not have a wider circulation unless redone for more conventional ensembles. This lovely piece, here present for string quartet, is well worth hearing, and the Pacifica plays it beautifully.

Throughout, Sharon Isbin is her usual stunning self, technically adept, creative, and full of interpretative nuance. This delightful disc is a welcome addition to anyone’s library, and the sound is superb.

—Steven Ritter

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