Album Review – Ascension by Yuri Liberzon

Another album review for you this week folks, and another fantastic recording. The debut offering from US-based guitarist Yuri Liberzon, an incredibly talented young man.

So who is Yuri Liberzon?

Russian-born and Israeli-raised classical guitarist Yuri Liberzon has been recognized for his impressive technical ability and musicality (in fact gaining US permanent residency because of it – not too shabby!)

Liberzon’s most in influential teacher at a young age was Maestro Yaron Hasson with whom he studied for 6 years in Israel before moving to the United States. He has been a frequent recipient of scholarships from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation.

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Motivated by a desire to realize his potential, Yuri was privileged to come to the United States as a student to study at the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University. He was awarded full scholarships to study with two of the world’s leading guitar masters: Manuel Barrueco and Benjamin Verdery. Yuri received his Bachelor’s degree and Graduate Performance Diploma from Peabody Conservatory as well as Master’s degree from Yale University.

In addition to his arrangements and transcriptions, his expertise has been called on to judge competitions in the United States, such as the Beatty Music Competition for the Classical Guitar in Washington D.C and San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

His arrangements of Domenico Scarlatti and J. S. Bach have been published in SoundBoard magazine, the official quarterly magazine of the Guitar Foundation of America.

Ascension – My Thoughts…

I have four words for you – this recording is exceptional.

OK, I have some more words for you than those, but to want to emphasise the point that this recording is stellar stuff.

The recording is top-and-tailed by two Lennon and McCartney pieces, Michelle and Yesterday. I’ll admit I’m always a little nervous about listening to classical guitar interpretations of Beatles music – the potential cheese factor is always high! However, not so with these two offerings. Michelle is beautifully played, without getting overly schmaltzy, and played in quite an idiomatic fashion. Yesterday is not one of my favourite Lennon and McCartney songs, but Yuri presents and plays the piece in a jazz-inflected manner with no hint of any cheese factor whatsoever!

Following Michelle, we’re presented with Lecuona’s Danza Lucumí, a lovely, whimsical little piece presented by Yuri with an alluringly subtle and delicate approach. A lovely little jewel of a piece. This is followed by Rudnev’s The Old Lime Tree, a delightfully bittersweet piece with some deliciously plush playing.

We then begin an ascension (to coin the name of the album) into the stuff where Yuri really shines with a couple of Scarlatti pieces – Sonata K.1/ L336 and Sonata K. 27/L449. The former of these two pieces I actually said to myself (and no word of a lie) “flipping heck, this is great stuff!” This is the first time a recording of Scarlatti has made me sit up and really pay attention (and again, no word of a lie). Technical brilliance, paired with musical understanding, maturity, subtly and letting the music speak for itself is a powerful thing.

And then that brings us onto the Bach – the full kit and caboodle of Partita No.2 in D Minor for Solo Violin in its entirety. On listening to this a whole lot more “flipping heck” ensued. My goodness. This. Is. Awesome. This version I think is going to have to be up there with one of my top renditions of this mammoth work. The Chaconne is off the charts!  Virtuosic and technically brilliant. Beautifully clear lines, subtle phrasing and clear and direct playing. It is the musical equivalent of building an impressively large, multi-faceted and beautifully coloured edifice. Ascension indeed.

Head to Yuri’s website to order your own digital download or CD of Ascension https://www.yuriguitar.com/recordings-and-publications/

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Observations on becoming familiar with a piece – sheet music, shapes and movements

John Price Guitar

I thought I’d share with you some brief thoughts today on an observation I’ve had in recent days.

In the last couple of months or so I’ve been practicing, working out niggles and challenging little transitions and fingerings and generally burnishing up a piece of music that I had originally learnt to about a 90% level a couple of years ago. The piece is the Fugue from Bach’s Lute Suite in A Minor BWV 997, the second movement from the Lute Suite that I’m aiming to have learnt to play in its entirety this year.

And the observation I’ve made in the last few weeks of getting to real grips with the piece again and really getting it under my skin, is that whilst I’m continuing to use the music when practicing and playing it I’m not “reading” the sheet music as such.

I’ve definitely not got the music embedded in memory for playing with out the sheet music – I’ve tested that. I get so far, but there are still big holes in the memory.

When I play the piece, with the sheet music, it feels a little like reading words in a book (or a blog site!). When we read words on a page we don’t tend to read every single letter, we recognise the shapes of words and collections of words. So I feel it’s a little like that – not having memorised the music but recognising and having embedded the shapes and sounds and flow of the piece, not reading every single note or chord, yet still relying on the shapes on the page, connecting the shapes on the page with the movements of my left and right hands and fingers.

I find it an interesting observation, and perhaps a step that I’d not been really mindful of before in really learning a piece of music.