A song recital can be a very special, intimate experience; not just a musical treat but a journey, led by a great storyteller. On Wednesday night, the audience at The Society of the Four Arts was taken on a journey to Spain in the company of two master storytellers, mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard and guitarist Sharon Isbin.
Leonard is a well-established singer, equally at home in opera and on the recital stage. She has performed in the world’s greatest opera houses with the greatest conductors, and has won two Grammy awards with a nomination for 2017 for her performance in Jennifer Higdon’s opera Cold Mountain …
They quickly established a warm, relaxed atmosphere, talking about their backgrounds and the music. The first half was mostly devoted to excerpts from Federico Garcia Lorca’s Canciones Españoles Angiguas. Isbin transcribed their performing version, an improvement over the original guitar arrangement.
Here the duo’s skills at storytelling were first demonstrated. Leonard’s rich mezzo is perfect for this music — she’s dark and intense, always beautiful, but with the rustic edge that this music needs. One problem with these songs is that most have lots of repeated verses, each with the same music. You can’t just sing the same way on each verse as the story develops.
And she didn’t. Her delivery — not just her voice, but her face and gestures — changed as each story unveiled. Nor was she the only storyteller. Isbin’s playing, and her arrangement, displayed amazing subtleties; she never repeated herself …
The second half was even more impressive. Joaquin Rodrigo’s song Aranjuez ma pensee, based on the achingly beautiful adagio from his Concierto de Aranjuez got a tender and moving performance, and Xavier Montsalvage’s songs about the Afro-Cuban culture were a delight.
But the gem of the recital was Manuel de Falla’s Siete Canciones Populares Españoles. Originally for piano accompaniment, the songs sound best with guitar, especially with the skills Isbin brings.
This performance was the finest this reviewer has ever experienced.
Isbin’s guitar crackled with electricity. Leonard could bring us to tears in the touching Asturiana but was utterly terrifying in the final song of the seven, Polo — “I have a pain in my breast that I can tell no one…”. After that, the encore of Agustin Lara’s Granada was a welcome relief.
A treasurable evening.”
Ken Keaton – Palm Beach Daily News