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Pre-eminent guitarists release captivating recordings

DAVID RUSSELL, GUITAR; "For David: Music Written for David Russell" (Telarc) ★★★★

SHARON ISBIN, GUITAR, JOAN BAEZ, VOCALS, MARK O'CONNOR, VIOLIN; "Journey to the New World" (Sony Classical) ★★★★

Two of today's pre-eminent guitarists, David Russell and Sharon Isbin, have recently released albums. While quite different from each other, both are captivating recordings and show off the two performers' versatility.

Russell's new CD for Telarc features pieces written for him. Most of them are Latin influenced and mellow, such as Sergio Assad's "Aquarelle" and Francis Kleynjans' "Arabesque en Forme de Caprice," and he plays these pieces as only he can — with great expressiveness and lyricism.

As to the couple of works that are rather abstract, Ben Verdery's "Now and Ever I" and "Now and Ever II," Russell captures the essence of each and brings out the best in them.

And one has come to expect no less from Russell. His playing is polished and refined and he puts himself into each piece he plays.

The same is also true for Sharon Isbin. Technically astute and musical, Isbin's playing is impeccable and sophisticated. "Journey to a New World" is more eclectic than Russell's album, ranging as it does from renaissance and English folk songs to music by Mark O'Connor, but it's just as enjoyable.

Two of the works feature vocals by Joan Baez, the traditional "Wayfaring Stranger," and John Jacob Niles' "Go 'Way From My Window." A third, John Duarte's "Joan Baez Suite," is based on some of Baez's texts, and written for Isbin. All three are performed with feeling and with an intimacy that brings warmth and depth to them.

O'Connor's "Strings & Threads Suite," also written for Isbin, is delightfully laid back and folksy, and the two of them bring a wonderful earthiness to it.

Both albums are gems and make a nice addition to anyone's guitar collection.