Sharon Isbin, Pacifica Quartet - Souvenirs of Spain and Italy. © 2019 Cedille Records

CD Spotlight

Full of Colours and Flavour

GIUSEPPE PENNISI listens to music from
Sharon Isbin and the Pacifica Quartet

'... an original program and excellent rendering make very pleasant listening.'


This new CD of Mediterranean flavours and colours arrives from the American Mid-West, the Jacobs School of Music of the University of Indiana. Most probably, many of our readers do not know that this is one of the United States' best schools of music. During the fifteen years when I was a resident of Washington, every season a fully staged opera produced by the Jacobs School was performed at the Kennedy Center Opera House for a couple of evenings by its best students and professors: they were fully professional stagings for a ticket paying audience and were often sold out. The Pacifica Quartet - Simin Ganatra, violin; Austin Hartman, violin; Mark Holloway, viola and Brandon Vamos, cello - has been in-residence there since 2012.

Beforehand, the quartet, formed in 1994, was in-residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and at the University of Chicago. The four soloists have a long practice of playing together and amalgamate their instruments' sounds very well. The group has received several awards in the US and in Europe. The four artists are, of course, in the faculty of the Jacobs School too. Cedille Producers Circle is a comparatively young Chicago-based recording company specializing in chamber music. It is a boutique house, supported mainly by Foundations. These two determinants as well as that, as an Italian, I have a flair for Mediterranean flavours and colours, made me interested in this recording.

Souvenirs of Spain and Italy include four string quarters, three by Italian composers and one by a Spanish artist. They span several decades, indeed centuries. Vivaldi's Concerto in D major, RV 93 and Boccherini's Quintet for Guitar and String Quartet in D major, G 448 are two gems of the eighteenth century. Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Quintet for Guitar and String Quartet Op 143 and Turina's quartet La oración del torero are two little twentieth century gems. Sharon Isbin at the guitar is added to the Pacifica Quartet. In the Turina, Eduardo Leandro plays the castanets and the tambourine.

Let us start with the two pieces with guitar. When Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805) wrote his quintet, the guitar had not yet established a place in the concert's stage, even though it was a popular instrument at the French court and in its thin-waisted double strung version was making headways in Italy and the United Kingdom, mostly due to guitarist-composers often in aristocratic courts. Thus, at the time, Boccherini's quintet could be considered avante-guarde. The beginning of the pastorale in the first movement and the final fandango are innovative (for that time) as well as full of colours and flavour.

Listen — Boccherini: Pastorale (Quintet, G 448)
(track 9, 0:00-0:52) © 2019 Cedille Records :

They form a bridge between Italian and Spanish traditions.

In Italy, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968) is less known and less played than he deserves, also because he lived and worked mostly in Los Angeles where he composed nearly two hundred scores for Hollywood movies, after emigrating from his homeland due to the racial laws enacted by Fascism. His rendering of Shakespeare' sonnets highly impressed me a few years ago at the Sagra Musicale Umbra. In 1932, he met Andrés Segovia in Venice and started a long collaboration with him. This quintet is one of fruits of that collaboration. It is a comparatively long (23:45 minutes) for a chamber music piece. It is rich in vibrant themes and dialogues between the individual players, especially in the contrapuntal finale with languid rhythm of a Habanera, a clear souvenir of Spain.

Listen — Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Allegro con fuoco (Guitar Quintet)
(track 4, 1:27-2:24) © 2019 Cedille Records :

Spain is also present in the second movement with a melisma.

Listen — Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Andante mesto (Guitar Quintet)
(track 2, 0:49-1:28) © 2019 Cedille Records :

Spanish composer Joaquín Turina was another appassionate follower of Segovia, even though the piece selected for this CD does not require a guitar. In about eight very dense minutes, it describes the bullfighter's prayer before starting the fight. This is a quartet full of tension and introspection as can be heard in the final minutes of La oración del torero.

Listen — Turina: La oración del torero
(track 8, 7:12-7:55) © 2019 Cedille Records :

The Vivaldi work is one of the most popular concertos by the Venetian 'Red Priest' - he was called this because of his hair colour. It was most likely composed during travel to Prague between 1791-93, and originally conceived for lute and string quartet. In modern versions, the guitar often replaces the lute. On this CD, the arrangement is by Emilio Pujol and Sharon Isbin. The sound is very balanced and there is a quite effective atmosphere, especially in the second movement, a largo.

Listen — Vivaldi: Largo (Concerto in D, RV 93)
(track 6, 4:04-4:57) © 2019 Cedille Records :

Briefly, an original program and excellent rendering make very pleasant listening.

Copyright © 7 May 2020 Giuseppe Pennisi,
Rome, Italy









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