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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Album Review: Joie de Vivre by Katrin Endrikat

Hello folks, I have another superb recording in my guitar string-calloused little mitts to review for you. And once again it’s another cracker.

Joie de Vivre album is the second recorded offering from young German guitarist Katrin Endrikat (her first being Between the Worlds, released in 2014). Katrin, born in Berlin, Germany in 1989, graduated with a Master of Music in Guitar Performance from the Yale School of Music (USA) under the guidance of Benjamin Verdery in 2014. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from Hochschule für Musik Detmold (Germany), where she studied with Dale Kavanagh and Thomas Kirchhoff.

So she’s no slouch! And this album is testament to that.

In fact this album is more than testament to that, and really lives up to it’s name – Joie de Vivre or joy of life! This recording bristles with a lively and exciting vibrant energy. And it was so lovely to read in the album liner notes that Katrin has dedicated this recording to her at-the-time unborn daughter – Joie de Vivre indeed!  You can hear and feel the excitement and emotion in the playing attached to such an exciting time of life.

On this recording we’re treated to some well-known favourites and , such as Torroba’s Sonatina (a delightfully vigorous interpretation, particularly the Allegretto, with some fabulous ponticello tones), Barrios’ Danza Paraguya (Katrin really brings out the lively, yet unhurried dance-like qualities of this piece. And again I really love those ponitcello tones), and a lovely Recuerdos de la Alhambra (a good deal of direction and drive, beautifully clear baseline that others don’t perhaps emphasise so well and a lovely even tremolo). We’re also presented with lovely interpretations of Granados’ Villanesca (again I was struck by the lovely ponticello tones – check this recording out if you want to hear how genuinely lovely and non-twangy a really god ponitcello can be) and Albeniz’s Sevilla (a rousing, energetic exploration of this favourite).

Joie de Vivre also features all five movements of José Luis Merlin’s Suite del Recuerdo, a piece I’ll admit I’m not overly familiar with. The first movement and album opener (my favourite of the five movements), Evocacion, is lyrical, yet vibrant, with sensitive phrasing.

I particularly like Lauro’s El Marabino – a wonderful foot-tapping little waltz, with just the right smattering of rubarto, without becoming trite or “obvious”, if you catch my meaning.

The recording is rounded out by a delightful Brazilian number Jongo by Paulo Bellinati, with some absolutely fab percussive sounds. Love it!

But for all of the wonderfully energetic renditions on Joie de Vivre my favourite has to be the lullingly soothing interpretation of the traditional (arranged by Miguel Llobet) El Noi de la Mare (which rather aptly translates as Mother’s Child). A case in point that a guitarist doesn’t have to present the flashiest, most technically challenging piece to demonstrate mastery of the instrument, allowing the music to speak through the delivery of a sensitively shaped melody, divine phrasing and full harmonies with beautiful tone.

All in all, Joie de Vivre is a wonderful recording – a delight of tonal variation, energetic flow and direction coupled with beautiful lyricism. Katrin Endrikat is certainly a guitarist worth keeping an eye (and ear!) on.

Be sure to check out Katrin’s website here: http://katrinendrikat.com