Souvenirs of Spain and Italy – Sharon Isbin, Pacifica Quartet – Cedille 

by | Sep 9, 2019 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Souvenirs of Spain and Italy = CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO: Quintet for Guitar and String Quartet, O143; VIVALDI: Concerto in D Major, RV 93; TURINA: La oracion del torero; Boccherini: Quintet in D Major for Guitar and Strings, G. 448 – Sharon Isbin, Pacifica Quartet – Cedille 90000 190, 61:36 (8/24/19) {Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Guitar virtuoso Sharon Isbin addresses the Mediterranean spirit in this album (rec. 19-21 January 2019), focused on composers either of Italian heritage or living in Spain and having absorbed its Iberian sensibility. Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968), whose family fled anti-Semitism in Spain, lived in Italy, where 1938 fascist policy forced another emigration to Beverly Hills.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco had met Andres Segovia in 1932, who inspired the composer to create works for the classical guitar. The four-movement Quintet (1950) follows the tradition of Boccherini, though its lyrical impulse pays debts to Franz Schubert. The composed called the opening Allegro, vivo e schietto “one of the most concise and stringent movements I have ever written.” The balances between string quartet and the solo guitar move in modern but clearly tonal harmony, the individual lines swaying in fluent motion.  The second movement, Andante mesto, the composer freely admits to having been his favorite, a touching, melismatic phrase in the middle section much in the “Souvenir of Spain” melos as the Rodrigo Concierto d’Aranguez, here in concert with violinist Simin Ganatra. The third movement Scherzo: Allegro con spirit, alla marcia moves in brisk flurries, despite its martial rhythm. Occasionally, the acerbic tone hints at the wit – in harmonics – we find in Bartok or the Belgian school of composers, like D’Indy. But the flavor remains Spanish, influenced by Chabrier and Falla. The last movement, Finale: Allegro con fuoco, gives us Spanish fire and learned counterpoint at once. This movement, too, slows to a lyrical middle section, another “Souvenir” of the Spanish landscape and folk spirit in the form of a habanera. The percussive elements add to the inflamed sparks that mark the passion of a rare moment in chamber music.

Antonio Vivaldi’s popular Guitar Concerto in D likely derives from his sojourn in Prague, c. 1730. Vivaldi had befriended a Count Johann Joseph von Wrtby, a competent lutenist. Isbin and the Pacifica ensemble realize an edition by Emilio Pujol, who assigns the original second violin part to the viola, and the happy blend of instruments sounds at once modern and “authentic,” as such epithets go.  The famous Largo movement hangs, suspended, in a timeless space, a guitar arioso in Isbin’s own ornaments over long, string harmonies. The rustic finale in 12/8, Allegro, has Isbin’s added figures to supplement the swirling dance.

Turina’s 1925 La oracion del torero for string quartet originally meant to be played by a lute quartet, an ensemble of mandolin-style instruments.  Behind a small door of the Madrid bullfight arena there stands a chapel, full of incense, in which the toreadors contemplate their possible deaths in the face of the crowd’s excitement.  The blends anxiety and spiritual introspection, given the few, remaining moments before the ultimate confrontation between man and beast. The Pacifica Quartet instills an eerie, hovering sense of hope and mortality, a looming menace softened by the humanity of the moment.

Boccherini’s guitar ensemble pieces tend to have been spliced together from extant works and then supplied to Francois de Borgia, the Marquis de Benavente, a Spanish nobleman who cherished his guitar.
This Quintet in G comes from a 1925 arrangement now in three movements, two drawn from the 1771 Quintet in D, Op. 10, No. 6 and the last movement from the 1788 Quintet in D, Op. 40, No. 2. The first movement proffers a sunny Pastoral that nicely balances the guitar and the strings. The more aggressive Allegro maestoso subdues the guitar to lines owned by violin and cello, often in harmonics. The last movement opens solemnly with a Grave assai, reminiscent of the opening movement’s bucolic mood; but the real meat comes in the form of the ensuing Fandango, calling for dashing, percussive flamenco strumming and stomping effects.  Eduardo Leandro provides the requisite folk castanets and tambourine that accompany the glissandos and runs in the guitar and violins. The free-wheeling sense of festivity permeates each bar of this vivacious music, which the Romeros immortalized two generations ago. Isbin’s luscious Antonius Mueller instrument and the Pacifica Quartet appear in rich, vibrant sonics courtesy of Producer Judith Sherman.  My right foot is still tapping.

—Gary Lemco

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