David RussellDavid Russell Plays Baroque Music. (Telarc...

David Russell

David Russell Plays Baroque Music. (Telarc 80559)


The Scottish-born David Russell, who will give a Baltimore-area recital next month, has been one of the world's most admired classical guitarists since winning several major competitions in the late 1970s. His latest Telarc release easily demonstrates why.

Russell's technical command of the guitar is impressive enough, with a superbly clear articulation, even in the gentlest of trills or most florid of phrases. But it's the musicianship behind the playing that makes all the difference.


Russell has put together an engaging collection of baroque works that he has transcribed himself for guitar - a harpsichord suite by Jean Batiste Loeillet, a cello sonata by Vivaldi, a recorder sonata by Handel and harpsichord sonatas by Scarlatti. Successful transcriptions fool the ear into thinking that the music was originally intended for the guitar; Russell accomplishes that neat trick with these exceptionally idiomatic arrangements.

The guitarist's account of the B flat major Sonata by Vivaldi is typical of the attractions here, its elegant slow movements flowing in a seamless arc, its fast ones dancing nimbly and with great attention to dynamic contrasts. Similar qualities characterize Russell's approach to the A minor Sonata by Handel; he takes the second movement at a propulsive clip but still allows each marvelous turn of melody to register expressively.

Scarlatti's inventive sonatas, which have an almost improvisational quality at times, inspire abundant color and personality from Russell; the shifts in harmony in the F minor Sonata (K. 239) sound bolder and fresher than ever.

The Baltimore Classical Guitar Society will present David Russell in recital at 8 p.m. March 3 at the Fine Arts Theatre, Building Q, Catonsville Community College. Tickets are $25, $20 for students, seniors and society members. Call 410-247-5320. * * *

George Walker

Lilacs: Music of George Walker. Faye Robinson, soprano; Arizona State University Symphony Orchestra; Timothy Russell, conductor; et al. (Summit Records DCD 274)

Music by African-American composers still turns up all too rarely in concert halls and on disc, even when Black History Month comes around; concert-goers in many parts of the country probably have little idea that there even is a significant repertoire of such music. This Summit recording affirms the quality of one of these composers, George Walker, the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize in music.

The main item is the source of that Pulitzer - "Lilacs" for voice and orchestra, based on Walt Whitman's memorial to Lincoln, "When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd." Commissioned and first performed by the Boston Symphony in 1996, the score gets its first recording here by the not-quite-as-august, but certainly capable, Arizona State University Symphony Orchestra and the singer who participated in the premiere, soprano Faye Robinson.


"Lilacs" reflects Walker's complex, yet directly communicative style. Whitman's poetic imagery finds musical equivalents, from the obvious (prominent flute lines for the last verse's "gray-brown bird") to the subtle (shimmering strings for "many a pointed blossom rising delicate"). The vocal lines are full of angular leaps and high-lying passages that ride atop a richly detailed orchestration.

Although it lasts less than 15 minutes, "Lilacs" has a lot to say. The solemnity of the words is not heavily underlined, but expressed in striking ways, leading to a final, slow fade that is filled with portent ("Yet the lilac with mastering odor holds me").

Robinson plunges fearlessly and effectively into the solo part, with smooth backing from conductor Timothy Russell and the Arizonans.

The rest of the recording holds interest as well. At a time when neo-romanticism is all the rage, Walker's mostly dissonant language seems all the more invigorating. The agitated String Quartet No. 2 from 1968, played by the El Paso Festival Quartet, concludes with a brilliant fugue that points up his clear grasp of structure. The muscular, bracing "Tangents" from 1999, performed by the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra, packs a lot of drama into a five-minute span.

The 1979 Sonata for Violin and Piano, No. 2 (with violinist Gregory Walker, the composer's son), and 1999 "Wind Set" complete the recording. * * *

Maxim Vengerov


Dvorak: Violin Concerto. Elgar: Violin Sonata. Maxim Vengerov, violinist; New York Philharmonic; Kurt Masur, conductor; Revital Chachamov, pianist. (Teldec 4509-96300)

Maxim Vengerov finds ideal outlets for his intensely lyrical brand of music-making in Dvorak's colorful Violin Concerto and Elgar's often profound Violin Sonata.

The Dvorak score, with a slight tinge of melancholy running through some of the most lusciously romantic music in the fiddle repertoire, inspires a performance of considerable warmth and tenderness. The slow movement, in particular, finds Vengerov in rapturous form; his violin eloquently sings the arching, trill-laced melodies. And the buoyant portions of the finale are delivered with great drive.

Kurt Masur provides supple support from the podium in this live recording, which finds the New York Philharmonic playing firmly and vividly.

Vengerov explores the autumnal, Brahmsian beauty of the Elgar sonata with a passionate conviction, backed all the way by stylish pianist Revital Chackamov. * * *