Back when I was writing for Examiner.com, I was particularly impressed that the acoustics at the Old First Presbyterian Church were so conducive to solo guitar recitals, meaning that the soloist would not have to rely on electronic amplification. One of the guitarists that worked very well in this environment was Yuri Liberzon, and I was a bit disappointed to have lost touch with him after his second Old First Concerts recital in August of 2011. Recently, however, I was able to resume contact thanks to a colleague, who had just finished producing Liberzon’s second album, leading me to put both of his albums on my queue for serious listening. Both of these albums can be found on Amazon.com; but, as far as I can tell with the uninformative qualities of Amazon’s search engine, these albums are available for only download or streaming.
Yuri Liberzon’s first album (courtesy of the guitarist)
The earlier of the two albums, entitled Ascension, was released in 2015 and allowed me to revisit several of the compositions Liberzon had presented at his two Old First Concerts recitals. These included Sergei Rudnev’s folk arrangement “The Old Lime-Tree” (lipa vekovaia), Ernesto Lecuona’s “Danza Lucumi,” Toru Takemitsu’s arrangements of two Beatle’s songs, “Michelle” and “Yesterday,” and Liberzon’s own arrangement of Domenico Scarlatti’s K. 1 keyboard sonata in D minor. The album includes another of Liberzon’s Scarlatti arrangements, K. 27 in B minor; but most impressive is that he took on the entirety of Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1004 solo violin partita in D minor. Guitar performances of the concluding Chaconne movement of this partita have been around at least since the days of Andrés Segovia, but I must confess to a personal interest in how much the “spirit of the dance” is evoked by those who choose to perform the four preceding movements. That spirit was most evident in Liberzon’s approach to the Courante, which was pleasantly surprising given how many performers only “find their feet” when they get to the Gigue movement.
However, the most unexpected track on the Ascension album was Manuel Barrueco’s transcription of the music from Keith Jarrett’s 1975 solo concert at the Opera House in Cologne. Presumably, Barrueco prepared this transcription by listening to the ECM album of this concert and limited his attention to the final track, “Part IIc.” This was the recital’s encore and was the only portion of the performance to draw upon a precomposed tune, making it the one track from the album that would lend itself to transcription. What is most interesting is how Barrueco managed to capture many of Jarrett’s embellishments, which are very much a matter of deft keyboard technique; but the transcription makes a convincing case that the music is susceptible to another genre of deft finger-work.
Yuri Liberzon’s latest album (courtesy of the guitarist)
The title of the newer album, which was released this past July, is ¡Acentuado! It consists of two compositions by Astor Piazzolla. The first of these is another Barrueco transcription, this time of the six pieces called “Tango-Études,” which were originally composed for solo flute. What is most interesting in these pieces is not only the extent to which the music is as much a technical study for guitar as it had originally been for flute but also Barrueco’s skill in adding notes that allow the guitarist to get beyond the monodic constraints of the flute line. One could almost believe that this music had originally been written for guitar, from which the flute version was subsequently “distilled.”
The remaining four tracks of the album are devoted to Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango suite, which was composed as a duet for flute and guitar. Liberzon had performed this in his second Old First Concerts program, playing the piece with local flutist Meerenai Shim. The flutist on the recording is Josué Casillas. The duo does an excellent job of playing up the stylistic characteristics that distinguish the four movements, each corresponding to a different period in the twentieth century, even if the “Piazzolla sound” is unmistakable over the course of all four of the movements.