A Memorable Cherubino Meets a Memorable Guitarist

04/04/2016

García Lorca, Granados, Albéniz, Rodrigo, Montsalvatge, Tárrega, and Falla: Isabel Leonard (mezzo-soprano), Sharon Isbin (guitar), Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 29.3.2016 (BJ)

García Lorca: from Canciónes españolas antiguas: “El café de Chinitas,” “Romance de Don Boyso,” “Anda, jaleo”
García Lorca, arr. Isbin: Los mozos de Monleón, Zorongo, Las morillas de Jaén, Sevillanas del sigolo XVIII; arr.
Emilio de Torre/Isbin: La Tarara
Granados: Spanish Dance No. 5
Albéniz, arr. Segovia: Asturias
Rodrigo: Aranjuez ma pensée
Montsalvatge, arr. Isbin: from Cinco canciónes negras: “Canción de cuña para dormir a un negrito,” “Canto negro”
Tárrega: Recuerdos de la Alhambra
Falla, arr. Pujol/Llobet: Siete canciónes populares españolas

Of all the starry performers to have appeared in the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society’s current season, few can be accounted starrier than the Metropolitan Opera’s Cherubino. Having been bowled over not long ago by Isabel Leonard’s portrayal of that role, I approached her all-Hispanic recital with guitarist Sharon Isbin with the highest expectations—and if anything she surpassed them.

Ms. Leonard comes by her fluency in Spanish honestly, being of Argentinean descent of her mother’s side. Linguistic clarity was matched in her performances by an expressive freedom and a bloom of tone that few singers of our time could have rivaled, in this or any repertoire: not yet beyond her mid-thirties, she is already a great singer. The first half of the program, including some of Federico García Lorca’s musical settings both for voice and in solo guitar arrangements by Ms. Isbin, was satisfying enough. But it was after intermission, with a profoundly touching performance of Joaquín Rodrigo’s magical and poignant Aranjuez ma pensée, that the gleaming mezzo-soprano voice opened up still further in tone, attaining a new level of communicative intensity that was maintained to the end of the evening through some agreeable pieces by Montsalvatge and Tárrega, and a superb account of Falla’s more familiar Seven Spanish Folk-Songs.

Throughout this memorable recital, Isbin proved to be an entirely worthy partner for Ms. Leonard, her guitar supplying an inexhaustible wealth of telling detail and vivid rhythm. And both performers—who, in touches of verbal comment, enjoyed a charmingly informal rapport with each other and with the audience—looked as stunning as they sounded. I hope it will not be long before they are back, to delight us with their excavations from a repertoire that still deserves to be further explored.

Bernard Jacobson

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