A Classical Guitarist Making Herself Heard
By ALLAN KOZINN
Published: May 15, 2011
The classical guitar is mostly a solitary instrument, partly because the greatest works written for it are in the solo repertory. So even though its concerto repertory has grown prodigiously since the late 1930s and is plentifully available on recordings, opportunities to hear guitarists play concertos in concert remain comparatively rare.
The technical problem should no longer be so daunting now that guitarists routinely use subtle amplification, as Sharon Isbin did in her performance with the Salomé Chamber Orchestra on Saturday evening at the Metropolitan Museum. Ms. Isbin uses a system that lets her be heard but preserves the poetry and warmth of the guitar’s timbre: her sound was rounded and buttery throughout the instrument’s range.
The evening was very much hers. Though the orchestra, which performs standing and without a conductor, gave a glowing account of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro (Op. 47), it mostly collaborated with Ms. Isbin on concertos and a chamber piece.
The program opened with Vivaldi’s Concerto in D (RV 93), originally for the lute. Ms. Isbin took a relaxed, easygoing approach, even in the bright outer movements. But if her focus was on precision and directness, she sacrificed nothing in energy. As in her Virgin and Warner recordings of the work, she was generous with ornamentation in the repeated sections. In the Adagio especially, she expanded freely on Vivaldi’s slow-moving, introspective melody and adorned phrase endings with cross-string trills, which, unlike the easier and more common single variety, have the clarity and definition of a keyboard trill.
Ms. Isbin took a similarly mellow approach to Rodrigo’s “Fantasía Para un Gentilhombre,” a 1954 meditation on dances by the 17th-century Spanish composer Gaspar Sanz. Usually this fantasia is played as a straightforward dialogue between guitar and orchestra, each presenting Rodrigo’s elaborations on the Sanz pieces with equal zest. Ms. Isbin, instead, created the illusion of historical distance, as if the guitar line represented Sanz’s voice, with the orchestra providing Rodrigo’s commentary. (That said, she was at her most arresting in the very un-Sanzian harplike cadenza in the finale.)
Between the Vivaldi and Rodrigo works, Ms. Isbin and a quartet from the orchestra (a quintet if you count the castanet and tambourine player, who joined in for the Fandango finale) gave a brisk account of Boccherini’s Quintet No. 4 (G. 448). Ms. Isbin also played two solo works: a lovely account of Tárrega’s “Capricho Arabe” in which her rhythmically free reading of the introductory filigree suggested the sound of an oud, and Andrew York’s pleasant “Andecy.”