Theme and Variations

Thoughts and experiences of exploring classical, jazz, and other art music.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Sharon Isbin

As I write this, I am listening to Sharon Isbin plays Baroque Favorites for Guitar, the latest CD from classical guitarist Sharon Isbin.

Isbin seems to specialize in music which was not originally written for the guitar (although her repertoire does include many of standard classical works on many of her recordings). On this CD, she performs two pieces by Antonio Vivaldi, four by J.S. Bach, and one by Tommaso Alibinoni. The concerto pieces accompaniment by the Zurcher Kammerorchester under the direction of Howard Griffiths.

The opening piece is Vivaldi's Concerto in D major, R. 93. This is a work which is easily recognized, particularly the second movement, the Largo. Isbin is a master of the classical guitar (she is the director of the guitar department at the Julliard School), and her performance of Vivaldi is soulful and exciting. There's not a lot of ornamentation in the original music, but Isbin adds her own embellishments.

According to the liner notes, Vivaldi's A major concerto was originally composed as a trio sonata for violin, lute, and continuo, with the lute and violin parts nearly identical. Isbin uses arrangements for the work (and the D major piece) by Emilio Pujol, which add a viola, and makes the guitar part more prominent.

The works by Bach include a transcription of his Concerto in A minor BWV 1041, and Adagio from a keyboard concerto, a prelude, and the well-known Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring.

According to her web site (which includes a lengthy list of groups with which she has performed) Isbin began playing guitar at the age of nine. It also says she is a bit of an outdoor enthusiast, backpacking and cross-country skiing. Her recordings have won Grammy Awards in classical music. She studied with the legendary Andres Segovia, and is one of the premier guitarists in the world. This article tells a bit of the story of how she was trained and how she got started.

Classical guitar can be a mood setting kind of music, in both solo works and as part of an ensemble. A person wanting to become acquainted with this aspect of classical music would do well to start with one of over twenty of Isbin's recordings.

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