February 2006

Rodrigo - Concierto de Aranjuez; Ponce - Concierto del sur; Villa-Lobos - Guitar Concerto
Sharon Isbin, guitar; New York Philharmonic, José Serebrier, conductor
Warner Classics 60296
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Fifteen years ago Virgin Classics issued Sharon Isbin’s recording of both of Joaquín Rodrigo’s popular works for solo guitar and orchestra -- the Concierto de Aranjuez and the Fantasía para un gentilhombre -- with the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra under Lawrence Foster. That disc, carrying the imprimatur of the composer himself and filled out with a guitar arrangement of a Vivaldi lute concerto, was warmly received in 1991 and still provides much pleasure. Isbin’s remake of the most celebrated of all guitar concertos, however, is still more fetching and is part of a stronger program in which its companion pieces are the most admired specimens of the genre from North and South America, those by the Mexican Manuel Ponce and the Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos.

In that context, it may be noted that Isbin’s partner in these performances, José Serebrier, was a two-year-old in Montevideo when Andrés Segovia gave the premiere of Ponce’s Concierto del sur there in 1941. Here he has the New York Philharmonic not only on its toes but in a most sympathetic frame, consistently engaged with Isbin on a chamber-music level of intimate give-and-take. The sound is first-rate in every respect, and Paulino García Blanco’s annotation is as distinguished in its own right as the performances themselves. The only slip-up in this fine package of the three outstanding guitar concertos of the 20th century is the reversal of the captions under the photos of Ponce and Villa-Lobos -- which, of course, does not affect the listening pleasure at all.