Review: Isbin brings virtuosic fire, story-telling charm to Spanish program at Wolf Trap
By Andrew Lindemann Malone
Sharon Isbin presented “The Spanish Hour” Sunday afternoon at the Barns at Wolf Trap, offering a collection of Spanish and Latin-American pieces that showed that Isbin knows how to play guitar as few others can.
Meeting the dual objectives of pandemic safety and cool presentation, Isbin wore a striking red leather-esque mask that matched her outfit perfectly. Yet from the first notes of her opening piece, Enrique Granados’ Spanish Dance No. 5, it was her technique that shone most brightly.
The cleanness of her sound jumped out immediately: precise intonation, ringing sustained notes, delicately graded dynamics, even in the trickiest thickets of notes. The triplets in Francisco Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra flowed with utter smoothness, reminiscent of the falling water they depict. She can also convey instrumental color she requires, making the guitar sound fiercely intimate or as grand as an orchestra. It’s a pleasure just to hear her strum.
Leo Brouwer’s El Decameron Negro, written for Isbin, brought the most musical heft to Sunday’s concert. Cast in three movements, Brouwer’s suite relates the story of a warrior who falls out of favor with his village once he discovers he loves the harp. (Isn’t that always the way?) Brouwer sharply characterizes the warrior with a craggy, rising theme that Isbin declaimed imposingly, and the subsequent events—battle, love, etc.—were cast in equally vivid music that Isbin helped shape into a compelling narrative. On a concert full of flair and fireworks, it was nice to have a meatier work to dig into as well.
Isbin typically phrased melodies freely, hesitating at crucial moments as a singer would to draw out the drama. The blood ran hottest in the two chestnuts that closed the first half of the program, Tárrega’s Capricho Arabe and the Andres Segovia transcription of Isaac Albeniz’s Asturias, the latter of which featured scintillating flamenco strumming interspersed with vivid evocations of song from Isbin’s guitar.