Sharon Isbin

Nightshade Rounds: Virtuoso

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Kudos to Sharon Isbin for recording Nightshade Rounds, a series of challenging modern works for classical guitar. This collection of six pieces, with the exception of George Gershwin's "Preludes for Piano," was written in close collaboration with classical guitarists, with two of the compositions written explicitly for Isbin. William Walton's "Five Bagatelles," composed for the legendary Julian Bream, opens the disc, providing Isbin an excellent vehicle to display both her incredible technique and her exquisite phrasing. The piece itself is slightly jazzy at times, although jazzy in a Gary Burton/Chick Corea sort of way (i.e., making great use of European classical idioms, tonalities, and forms). There is also some use of quasi-flamenco devices, such as the slapping of the body of the guitar for rhythmic effects. It is very modern and very self-consciously guitaristic. Bruce MacCombie's "Nightshade Rounds," a piece written for Isbin, is a fascinating study in repetition, as a trance-like series of arpeggios gives way to halting, stop-and-start themes that dissolve into space before its successor picks up the trail. It is a beautiful piece and one that Isbin is well-suited to executing. The other piece written expressly for Isbin is Joan Tower's "Clocks." True to its title, Tower's composition imitates the resonant knelling of a grandfather clock at its opening, and mirrors Walton's "Five Bagatelles" in that it accelerates into passages of almost flamenco-like arpeggios. Again, it is a composition well-suited to Isbin's style. All in all, Nightshade Rounds is a fine introduction to some rare pieces of guitar music and to Sharon Isbin's extraordinary playing as well. Highly recommended.

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