Spanish Flavor through Italian Eyes

The vibrant Pacifica Quartet is a perfect match for guitarist Sharon Isbin on WCRB’s CD of the Week, where the intoxicating flavor of Spain gets cooked up by Italian composers.

The colorful Pacifica String Quartet is heard frequently here on WCRB – and so is the soulful guitarist Sharon Isbin. Now they’ve met and formed a spectacular musical friendship, resulting in a new recording full of shifting Mediterranean moods. The CD, called Souvenirs of Spain and Italy features Italian composers who have dipped into the colorful world of Spanish idioms.

The opening quintet for guitar and string quartet by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco begins with a flourish that sets the tone for the recording. Listen to the slow movement (track 2) and you’ll experience the beauty of his heartfelt and mesmerizing melancholy. The Pacifica Quartet does a stunning job of holding back and shimmering in the dusk as Isbin’s warm guitar sound floats above. You’ll be thoroughly captivated. Castelnuovo-Tedesco left Italy in the 1930s under anti-Semitic pressure and, sponsored by violinist Jascha Heifetz, he came to Beverly Hills, scoring films including Gaslight and And Then There Were None. It was a meeting with guitarist Andres Segovia that turned his mind and heart toward the guitar.

The recording ends with a flourish, too: Luigi Boccherini’s irresistible D Major Quintet closes it out with a famous Fandango, complete with castanets and a tambourine. It’s a fun and gleeful tribute to Spain, where Boccherini spent most of his life as a cellist and composer. The atmosphere he soaked up from bustling 18th-century Madrid gets a joyful airing in the Fandango (track 11). Isbin and the Pacificas sound like they’re having a blast.

There are eight minutes of string quartet alone, too. The Pacifica Quartet plays Turina’s “La oración del torero” (“The Bullfighter’s Prayer”), an atmospheric trip into the psyche of a bullfighter. It begins in a tiny chapel, ripe with incense, where the matador must collect his thoughts, praying to God for protection just before he enters the ring. Turina was struck by the extreme contrast between the hush of this little room and the wildness of the arena just past its door.

Vivaldi makes an appearance on the CD, too – an arrangement by Spanish composer Emilio Pujol of the Lute Concerto in D Major. In its center is a breathtaking slow movement (track 6), played with finesse and love by everyone here. 

When asked about the CD, cellist Brandon Vamos said, “What I love about working with Sharon is her attention to detail, subtlety and nuance, rubato and timing, and her diligence and desire to get things just right.”

For a taste of their collaboration, here’s a little tease:

For more information and to purchase this album, visit ArkivMusic.