Russell's Wonderful Albéniz


The mind boggles when contemplating the relatively short life of Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909). A host of colorful tales, including his childhood stowaway on a liner bound for Cuba, are recounted in Richard E. Rodda's excellent liner notes to David Russell's new CD, Isaac Albéniz: Spanish Music For Classical Guitar. The biography provides a fascinating counterpoint to 15 beautiful selections distinguished, not for their outrageousness (they aren't in the least), but rather for their melodic grace.

A piano prodigy of Mozartian precociousness, he gave his first concert at the age of four. Although the French Conservatoire refused to admit him in 1867 because of his age, he returned to Spain to tour Catalonia with his father and sister. Then, a year after he enrolled in the Conservatory in Madrid, he ran away from home to northern Spain, where his astounding feats included playing the piano with the backs of his fingers while facing the other way.

Russell, who won a Best Instrumental Soloist Classical Grammy in 2005 for his Telarc CD Aire Latino, plays with the authenticity that comes from having grown up in the town of Minorca, one of the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea that is governed by Spain. Recording Engineer Thomas Knab has taken special pains to illuminate the warmth of his guitar's heartfelt mid-range. This results in masterfully played performances distinguished as much by their range of colors as by their heartwarming glow. John Williams and all the rest never enjoyed sonics so good.