Latin music, guitar sound go hand-in-hand

November 11, 2004|by Elisabeth Schulze

This weekend, the Maryland Symphony Orchestra welcomes back the world-renowned classical guitarist Sharon Isbin. Already familiar to MSO audiences through her well-received appearances with the orchestra in 1991 and 2001, the two-time Grammy Award winner will perform a new program this week.

It is customary for a guest artist to play one concerto with the orchestra. Ms. Isbin has generously offered to play three works with the orchestra, and I suspect the audience will clamor for an encore or two, as well.

When one thinks of Latin music, the sound of the guitar comes instantly to mind. This popular instrument and its ancestor, the lute, found an early musical home in the warm countries of the Mediterranean, in particular, Italy and Spain. The first half of our program focuses on music written originally for the lute and early guitar. Respighi's "Ancient Airs and Dances" Suite No. 1 for Orchestra is an arrangement of works for the lute by Italian composers of the 16th century. Each of the four movements transports us back to a time of courtly dance and song. Respighi's colorful orchestration seeks to illuminate the melodic and rhythmic riches of this antique music, taking care never to overwhelm its delicate and elegant lines.


With Rodrigo's "Fantasa Para un Gentilhombre" - translated as "Fantasy for a Gentleman" - for guitar and orchestra, we are transported to the 17th century and the melodies of the Spanish guitarist Gaspar Sanz. Rodrigo, like Respighi, freely transcribes these early melodies and captures the folk-like quality of these popular dances, which were heard more often in the theater than at the royal court.

The second half of the program focuses exclusively on Italy, and Ms. Isbin joins the orchestra in works by Albinoni and Vivaldi. Albinoni's Adagio is itself a 20th-century adaptation by the Italian scholar Remo Giazotto of a few melodic fragments by the Baroque composer. Much in the same way that Respighi and Rodrigo sought to bring ancient music back to life in more modern clothes, Giazotto fashioned an impassioned and highly romantic setting for Albinoni's melodies. Ms. Isbin and the orchestra will perform an arrangement of this work by John Duarte.

Vivaldi's Concerto in D Major, originally was intended for the lute, but guitarists have eagerly commandeered this work for themselves. This short three-movement work has as its centerpiece one of the most beautiful - and famous - slow movements in the musical repertoire.

Closing out the program, the orchestra will perform Mendelssohn's brilliant Symphony No. 4 in A Major, known as the Italian Symphony. Certainly one of his greatest and most successful works, it is always perplexing to note that Mendelssohn was never satisfied with the work and continued to tinker with it up to his untimely death at the age of 38.

Though some scholars believe these revisions deserve a hearing, it is largely the original 1833 conception that has entered the permanent repertoire. After all, it is hard to justify messing with perfection.

Elizabeth Schulze is music director of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra.

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