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Review: Sharon Isbin at Fort Worth Classic Guitar Society

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Sharon Isbin

8 p.m. Friday

University United Methodist Church

4024 Caruth Blvd., Dallas



Posted 11:41pm on Thursday, Mar. 06, 2014

It was a concert that exuded confidence.

Sharon Isbin, one of the world’s best-known and most highly lauded classical guitarists, offered a recital at the Kimbell Art Museum’s Piano Pavilion on Thursday that reflected her lofty status in both its content and personality.

In the first performance of this type in this new space, Isbin made the most of the room’s lively acoustics, which allowed her to perform without any amplification.

“Isn’t this an amazing hall?” Isbin noted between pieces.

The answer made obvious by her performance is that it certainly is when she is playing in it.

Isbin opened the concert with Nocturnal after John Dowland by British composer Benjamin Britten. Christopher McGuire, president of concert’s presenting organization, the Fort Worth Classic Guitar Society, warned the audience of about 225 that the piece is not always pretty, but is “a very important work.” Those are chilling words to any experienced concert-goer and those fears turned out to be well founded. Nocturnal is one of those 20th-century works that fills the listener with desire — specifically, the desire for the piece to end as soon as possible.

But this tedious opening work was the sort of piece Isbin has earned. She is long past the point of needing to make an impression or prove her worth. So we can’t complain too much if she chooses to play something that entertains her more than the audience.

It was the only piece on the program that was not listener-friendly. Most of the rest, whether new or old, gave patrons of all experience levels something to hold onto.

That was especially true of Isaac Albeniz’s Asturias, a work as well-known as the Britten piece is obscure. Isbin’s approach was to explore it more than play it. It was as if she was saying that all the groundwork had been done, and she was concerned only with finding the interesting things other had missed.

Much the same could be said of her reading of a Bach lute suite (BWV 997) that opened the concert’s second half. Isbin did a marvelous job of articulating the voices found in the five-part work while also constantly mining the piece for new gold.

But the concert was still missing something at that point. While there was an abundance of virtuosity and some very serious music, there was a distinct lack of fun. Isbin took care of that to some extent with her final two pieces: a waltz by Paraguayan composer Agustin Barrios Mangore and, as an encore, Porro by Colombian composer Gentil Montana.

Both had more bounce than anything else on the program and were badly needed. So it might have been better to have had a lighter work earlier in the concert.

But that was one of the very few problems with an otherwise beautifully structured concert that did a superb job of showcasing the diverse talents of its justly famous (and supremely self-assured) headliner, as well as christening a venue that appears to be ideal for the classical guitar.

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