Musical greats, in any genre, tend to possess a studious knowledge of musical tradition, channeled into a unique personal voice. It is this distinctive, mature, yet vivacious sound we hear when listening to guitarist Sharon Isbin, and it only takes a cursory glimpse at her discography or biography to confirm a thorough education in classical guitar lineage. Her 2020 release Affinity is an impressive undertaking that offers a modern take on recurring themes from her prolific career. Most notably, her virtuosity and commitment to broadening the repertoire of the instrument through commissioned works.
The recording takes its name from Affinity: Concerto for Guitar & Orchestra, by Chris Brubeck. Brubeck’s writing showcases Isbin in both technique and grace, providing an opening to the disc that is exciting, while not devoid of tender moments. At first I expected to hear more guitar, but after continued listening, Brubeck’s orchestral writing balances perfectly with its soloist. A mature rendition of El Decameron Negro, written for Isbin by Leo Brouwer, is heard here a quarter century after Isbin’s first recording the piece. The second unaccompanied guitar number we hear is by Grammy Award-winning Chinese composer Tan Dun, and has a more abstract sound, providing a welcome contrast to the aforementioned pieces and Antonio Lauro’s Waltz No.3. The album’s well-programmed closer, Richard Danielpour’s Of Love and Longing, is a succinct yet compelling song cycle that truly keeps a listener on their toes until the last note.