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Guitarists shine brightly in classical compositions

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DAVID RUSSELL, GUITAR; "Sonidos Latinos: Guitar Music of Latin America" (Telarc) ★★★★


The guitar is a versatile instrument for which classical composers have written since the beginning of the 19th century. And along with that repertoire there is a wealth of works by Spanish and Latin American composers who quite naturally treat the guitar as their own.

One of today's pre-eminent guitarists is David Russell, who has a sizable number of CDs out that not only underscore the guitar's versatility but also highlight his resourcefulness as a performer. His newest album for Telarc, "Sonidos Latinos," explores the music of 20th century Latin American composers, specifically five — Augustin Barios Mangoré, Manuel Ponce, Héctor Ayala, Armando Neves and Jorge Morel. And Russell does it in his inimitable style.

Russell exhibits wonderful sensitivity to these works; his musicality shines here. He lets these short pieces sing, and his gorgeously crafted phrasings and nice touches to the lilting rhythms makes the music sparkle. It takes a craftsman to do justice to this music and Russell is the one.

The most famous piece on the album is without question Ponce's sweet "Estrellita," which Russell plays with just the right touch of sentimentality. But the other tracks are no less wonderful, in particular Ayala's "Serie Americana," a suite of pieces written in the style representative of several Latin American countries.

"Sonidos Latinos" is one of Russell's best CDs to date and an absolute gem.

The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet's newest CD for Telarc is also their first concerto recording. On it they've paired Joaquin Rodrigo's masterful Concierto Andaluz and Sergio Assad's "Interchange," a work written for the group and premiered by them last year with the San Antonio Symphony. For the recording, however, they've joined forces with conductor David Amado and the Delaware Symphony in a collaboration that is absolutely wonderful.

Rodrigo's concerto was written for the Romeros, the legendary family of guitarists who were also LAGQ's mentors. It's a delightfully melodic piece, like everything Rodrigo wrote, and the four guitarists from Los Angeles give a sumptuous performance that captures the work's lyricism and finesse.

Unlike Rodrigo's concerto, Assad's five-movement "Interchange" is an urbane and polished work in which each movement is a musical portrait of one of the guitarists, while the final movement is a deftly assembled montage of all four. It's a worthy companion piece to Rodrigo's concerto.

LAGQ gives a dynamic reading that captures the character of each movement. Their playing is nuanced and detailed but also eloquently lyrical, fluid and expressive.

Amado accompanies the four soloists sensitively, and there is a finely tuned and balanced interplay among them and the orchestra.

e-mail: ereichel@desnews.com