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'Affinity' by name, affinity by nature, Sharon Isbin's terrific latest recording evinces a wonderful talent for making fully hers what was written for her / GRAMOPHONE

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Chris Brubeck's Concerto for guitar and orchestra Affinity is a single-movement work in three sections: the first bright, jazzy and energetic; the second, based on a melody by his father, jazz great Dave Brubeck, mellow and Chopin-haunted; the third a whirling percussive dance infused with foot-tapping Brazilian and Middle Eastern vibes. Though Rodrigo isn't far away, either. Ably accompanied by the Maryland Symphony Orchestra under Elizabeth Schulze, Isbin gives a sparkling, virtuoso account that neatly underscores Brubeck's bountiful musical syncretism, while revealing a wider vista with smaller peaks and valleys visible in the distance. 

 

Though smaller in scale, Brouwer's colourful El Decamerón Negro for solo guitar also boasts three sections but its romantic tale of love and war achieves its intensity through intimacy, Isbin relishing the sweeping scales and arpeggios, the toccata-like textures and the programmatic elements. After a delightful interlude in the form of a duet version, arranged by and performed with Isbin's former student Colin Davin, of Lauro's popular Waltz No 3, Isbin returns to the subject of love with Tan Dun's extraordinary Seven Desires, a surreal courting ritual between flamenco guitar and pipa, and Richard Danielpour's three Rumi settings for voice and guitar, Of Love and Longing, in which she is joined by the soprano Isabel Leonard. Thanks in large part to Leonard's clear diction and languid phrasing, we're suddenly made aware that a more transcendent, spiritual love was with us on the journey all along. 

 

‘Affinity' by name, affinity by nature, Sharon Isbin's terrific latest recording evinces a wonderful talent for making fully hers what was written for her, regardless of style.