CD REVIEW: Yuri Liberzon - Ascension
By Dan Cohen - 07/17/2015 - 12:59 PM EDT
Artist: Yuri Liberzon
Genre: Classical Guitar
Sounds Like: Pierre Bensusan, Andres Segovia
Technical Grade: 10/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 10/10
Commercial Value: 10/10
Overall Talent Level: 10/10
Performance Skill: 10/10
Best Songs: The Old Lime Tree, Sonata K.27, Koln Concert Part IIc
Hard to believe that one of my favorite albums this year could be a solo classical guitar album, and a fairly traditional one at that, in terms of repertoire, but there it is. Yuri's playing is just that good-- fresh, spontaneous, original, bold, with a wonderful sense of time that is both strict and playful.
According to Yuri, the record 'symbolizes my ascension as a musician and human through the passage of time.' He begins with a fairly pedestrian interpretation of the Beatles 'Michelle', and you feel perhaps set up for a kitsch-fest. But the quality and clarity of his playing is apparent from the start. Danza Lucumi, by Ernesto Lecuona, hints at Liberzon's comfortable groove. He really gets going with The Old Lime Tree, by contemporary composer Sergei Rudnev, a fascinating, complex piece that manages to hint at classical forms without slavishly copying them. Liberzon brings out all the colors of the music, and when he returns to the original theme in the substantial (7 minute plus) piece, he restates it with a tenderness and contemplation that makes you really feel like you've been somewhere, that you've changed.
Liberzon's Scarlatti is a feast of clarity and precision, but not at the expense of expression. He's unfazed by complex, intertwining melodic lines, and particularly in Sonata K. 27, he brings a vivacious and singing line to music that can sometimes sound like a parlor trick-- he can do that?? His musicianship never seems forced or showy but simply a logical extension of his bold musical choices. Especially in the expertly played Bach, you get the sense of a real musical intelligence behind the notes, not someone merely wowing you with the fact that they can play this extraordinarily difficult music. Bach didn't write it to be difficult, per se, but to be beautiful, and to take us on a journey. Liberzon has the technical ability to make it all seem easy, and the emotional intensity to not stop there. A rare combination. It's as if he's thinking out loud.
His teacher Manuel Barrueco calls his transcription of Keith Jarrett a 'finger breaker'. It's hard to imagine a more finger-breaking piece than the Bach Chaconne that immediately precedes it, but this is apparently a different kind of finger-breaking. Or perhaps breaking different fingers. It's not particularly fast, so I'm wondering if it's more of a challenge for the left, chord-creating hand on the guitar. In any case, it's an involving, ever-evolving piece to which Liberzon brings his characteristic spontaneity and clarity. I should mention here the stellar work of engineer Nahuel Bronzini. Often on solo guitar records, the low strings have a tendency to be boomy or muddy. Here the low end, whether through Bronzini's miking or Liberzon's playing-- no doubt a combination of both-- the low end is forceful, balanced and clear, providing a great range of sound while not getting in the way of the higher register.
The album ends with another Beatles tune, an arragement of 'Yesterday'. By this time you're ready for the tunefulness and simplicity of McCartney's tune, and it serves as a fitting coda. Liberzon, according to his press release, has been designated an Alien of Extraordinary Ability by the state department. While it makes him a permanent resident of the US, this alien's ability is nothing short of other-worldly. And yet, Yesterday shows, he's all about melody, all about communication, all about heart. It's his Ascension, to be sure, but he wants to take us with him. My advice to you-- drop everything and go! Aliens like this don't drop by every day.
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