“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 . . .
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 – Seen and Heard International
“The pairing of guitarist Sharon Isbin and mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard showed how edifying an intimate recital can be . . . These days, opera stars rarely appear in recitals at which they can display other sides of their personalities — and skills — in a non-operatic repertoire . . .
Even within the rarified genre of vocal recitals, Spanish music has been neglected. In the past, singers relied on Italian and German songs and arias, and occasionally something in French. The neglect of Spanish music hasn’t been corrected today — a shocking omission in these days when building audiences is such a great concern, considering the large number of Spanish-speaking people in the United States.
The Spanish miniatures on this program were written for the lower-middle register of a woman’s voice, with hardly any high notes that beg for applause. The recital thus showcased the warm timbre of Leonard’s tones, her finesse, her coloring, and her expressivity . . . Her mother is from Argentina, and Leonard is at home with the Spanish language and its culture . . .
The intelligently chosen material included arrangements of folk tunes by Spanish Civil War-era poet and playwright Federico García Lorca, Manuel de Falla’s “Siete canciones populares españolas (Seven Popular Spanish songs),” and songs by Xavier Montsalvatge from his “Canciónes negras.” Montsalvatge’s composition made the most vivid impression because of its contrast of a simple lullaby with tart, unexpected harmonies.
In Rodrigo’s “Aranjuez ma pensée,” based on the second movement of his famous guitar concerto, the composer’s wife provided the text. Recovering from the loss of their infant and her severe illness, she wrote lyrics about the happy days when the two of them were younger. Other songs told stories about bullfighters, gypsies, and lovers. Isbin and Leonard ended the evening with the exciting “Granada” by Augustin Lara.”
Steve Cohen – Broad Street Review
“When vocal/guitar recitals work as naturally as the Isabel Leonard/Sharon Isbin concert presented on Tuesday by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society at the Kimmel Center, you wonder why they don’t happen constantly . . .
Leonard and Isbin were best with Lorca behind them in the first half and songs by Joaqúin Rodrigo, Xavier Montsalvatge, and Falla in the second. The stage patter included the backstory behind Rodrigo’s “Aranjuez, ma pensée,” which uses music from the second movement of his famous Concierto de Aranjuez with lyrics by his wife, Victoria Kamhi, written after she nearly died from the after-effects of childbirth.”
David Patrick Stearns – The Philadelphia Inquirer