Home » Stories » Sharon Isbin's 'Affinity' has textural clarity and a perfect balance / musical america

Top 10 for Aug

Sharon Isbin's 'Affinity' has textural clarity and a perfect balance / musical america

Bookmark and Share

Sharon Isbin has been a tireless commissioner of new work and her latest album Affinity is no exception with several recent compositions set alongside some old friends. It's Chris Brubeck's 18-minute Guitar Concerto-the longest and most colorful work here-that gives the album its title and opens proceedings. The concerto's name alludes to a shared "affinity" between composer and soloist, two musicians who thrive on exploring different styles. Like his father jazz legend Dave Brubeck, Chris Brubeck has his roots in jazz, but despite its plentiful toe-tapping syncopation, Affinity is most definitely a classical work. At its atmospheric heart the composer manages to incorporate one of his father's loveliest tunes-"Autumn in Our Town"-before a lilting Renaissance dance section ups the tempo to end with something akin to a wriggling Brazilian samba. Highly energetic, melodically infectious, and colorfully scored, Affinity is a real crowd pleaser, and with her immaculate and fleet-footed technique Isbin does it proud. The Maryland Symphony Orchestra under Music Director Elizabeth Schulze has just the right feel for this music and the excellent engineering ensures both textural clarity and a perfect balance.

It's 40 years since Leo Brouwer wrote his solo guitar work El Decameron Negro for Isbin, and although she's recorded it previously, her interpretation has only deepened with time. The three evocative instrumental "ballads" are inspired by African love stories infused with the musical sensibilities of Brouwer's native Cuba. Isbin is a natural storyteller and is in her element here, putting on a virtuoso display full of light, shade, and manual dexterity. Ditto Tan Dun's Seven Desires, an intriguing solo work that straddles-and fuses-the seemingly disparate worlds of the Chinese pipa and Spanish flamenco guitar. Antonio Lauro's charming Waltz No. 3 is here arranged for two guitars by former Isbin student and now regular duet partner Colin Davin. The disc concludes with Richard Danielpour's Of Love and Longing, three contrasting settings for voice and guitar of the Persian poet Rumi. Performed here with great warmth and sensitivity by Isabel Leonard, it crowns an album that should please fans of Isbin and of contemporary guitar music in general.