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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New Album Review – Bach on Fire by Lily Afshar

Once again I am in the privileged position as a classical guitar blog writer to receive an advance copy of the latest recording from one of the planet’s finest guitarist. This month it is the latest recording from the wonderful Lily Afshar.

It only seems a moment ago that Lily was releasing her last album with October 2013’s Musica da Camera (which we, of course, featured a review of too. Check it out here.)

Bach On Fire

Bach On Fire (Archer Recordings) is Afshar’s seventh offering and, as the name suggests, takes us through some of J.S. Bach’s most cracking works including Cello Suites, PreludeFugue & AllegroLute Suites and Ave Maria. As Lily so clearly demonstrates through her own personal transcriptions of lute and cello works, Bach certainly indeed was on fire. As is Afshar herself at the moment. Not only is this recording following on only six months (or thereabouts from the previous recording), but all the transcriptions on the album are transcriptions that Lily has made herself – this record should be called Lily on Fire!

Bach on Fire draws its title from these innovative arrangements of Afshar’s. These, according to the woman herself, allow for more interpretive phrasing and dynamic nuance and, ultimately, a more exciting performance. And to be honest this really does come through in the recording. The music, which is music we’re all very familiar with, has a fantastically fresh and vibrant quality to it. That’s no mean feat I can tell you. Kudos to Afshar.

Bach on Fire features:

  • Lute Suite No. 4 in E Major, BWV 1006a
  • Cello Suite No. 1, BWV 1007, 
  • Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro, BWV 998, 
  • Cello Suite No. 3, BWV 1009
  • Ave Maria

My particular favourite on the album is the arrangement of Cello Suite No. 1 (BWV 1007) – the Courante has that sprightly, “running” quality that a courante should have. Lily also manages to really capture the warmth and depth of the cello, with very clear lines (so important in Bach), and making the music sound as if the guitar is its natural home. I must get my hands on a copy of this score.

I must also make mention of Ave Maria too which, for me, is one of those tunes that usually makes me go “ohhh, not again….“. In this instance though, Lily manages to capture and communicate the simple beauty inherent in the music. A simple, unfussy, clear arrangement that, again, sits so very well on the instrument. Listening to this recording makes me feel rather excited and want to play it all for myself! On fire indeed!

 

Afshar’s new arrangements are the result of many years of experimentation and watching students struggle to play Bach. Knowing that the amount of bass notes and poor fingerings posed a technical challenge for most players, Afshar employed techniques like cross-string fingerings to make the music sound as if it were written for the guitar.

After years of using whiteout, pencil and eraser to adapt other Bach guitar arrangements, I decided to make my own editions from scratch,” she says. Afshar arranged 42 Bach movements which were published by Mel Bay in 2013 as Essential Bach: Arranged for the guitar by Lily Afshar. (Note to self: I must check this out!).

This recording offers a fresh approach to playing Bach,” Afshar writes in the album’s liner notes. “My purpose is to make Bach accessible to a wider audience and encourage guitarists to play them more. Many others have arranged Bach pieces for the guitar, but my arrangements are quite different.”

Whether you’re a lover of classical guitar, Bach, or want to hear what some absolutely top-notch arrangements of some of Bach’s seminal works played by a top-notch guitarist you definitely need to check out Bach on Fire.

Album out June 3 via Archer Records

 

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