Sharon Isbin / Pacifica Quartet

Souvenirs of Spain & Italy

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Guitarist Sharon Isbin was arguably the instrument's preeminent star in the 1980s and 1990s, a golden age for classical guitar music generally. New charismatic players have come along since then, but Isbin's playing remains a rare pleasure. Catch her if you can! An example is this 2019 release on Chicago's Cedille label, which features mostly well-worn pieces for guitar and ensemble; the ensemble here is the Pacifica String Quartet. The most familiar of all is the Vivaldi Guitar Concerto in D major, RV 93, heard here in an arrangement by Emilio Pujol and tinkered with by Isbin herself. Isbin applies a good deal of ornamentation to Vivaldi's bare lines, which is usually inadvisable for non-Baroque specialists. But Isbin's execution here is flawless, and the effect is haunting (sample the slow movement). The rest of the program is Spanish. The little-heard Quintet for guitar and string quartet of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco is a sparkling piece of neoclassicism, played to the hilt by Isbin, and the Quintet for guitar and string quartet, G. 448, of Boccherini, complete with castanets and a tambourine, has the requisite expansiveness and the touch differentiating Boccherini's music from Haydn, Mozart, and other central European models. If there's a complaint it's the cavernous collegiate auditorium sound from Cedille, and perhaps that the Pacifica players aren't quite in Isbin's league. But this is a treat for fans of Isbin, who's doing more teaching than recording these days.

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