Review: Classical Guitar Virtuoso David Russell

Posted by Dale Obbie

"Until I heard David Russell, I never realized how beautiful a guitar could sound, how technically flawless a guitarist could be," said Professor Joel Brown during his introductory speech. His point was well taken: the audience of Russell's performance on March 30 shared a valuable privilege in seeing the guitar virtuoso.

Intent on impressing the importance of the occasion upon the audience, Brown held up a manila folder and began explaining the significance of its contents. "This is Jimmy Page's autograph," said Brown, receiving a murmur from the audience.

"This is a signed letter written by George Harrison...it's only a photocopy, though," he smiled. "And this is David Russell's autograph, which I got at a guitarist conference in 1988."

Brown's reverent introduction was appropriate. Russell is an internationally renowned classical guitarist who spends his time touring the world's most prestigious concert halls in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, Madrid, Toronto and Rome. He has recorded 16 albums, and, in addition to numerous other awards, he received a Grammy in 2005 for his album "Aire Latino." In 2009, Russell was inducted as an honorary member of "Amigos de la Guitarra," the oldest guitar society in Spain.

The program from Russell's Skidmore performance included compositions by Jos?? Broc??, S.L. Weiss, Jorg?? Morel, Fran??ois Couperin and Sergio Assad. Opening with the exquisite "Fantas??a in C" by Broc??, Russell immediately made his superb musicianship evident with cascading melodic runs from the lowest to the highest registers of the guitar. And far from being merely a flashy display of virtuosity, Russell's dexterity found its match only in the sincerely wrought emotion of the performance.

Though Russell may possess superhuman talent, his performance lacked the stiffness and stuffy formality that sometimes stifle classical music performances. His animated playing kept the crowd silent and attentive, while his warm personality showed itself in his descriptions of each piece: "the last movement is 'Juegeteando,' which means 'Playing Around.'" This title aptly described the music, which had a playful, sliding melody and a lighthearted mood that seemed to match Russell's own.

"Sandy's Portrait," a contemporary classical piece by Sergio Assad, was perhaps the most beautiful song that Russell played. His sweet, expressive tone and the subtle inflections of his vibrato carried as much emotion as the fastest and most note-heavy passages. Russell played the song's melody on the guitar's harmonics, ending the bittersweet piece afloat in its dreamscape.

To close the concert, Russell played a selection of traditional Celtic music - something you might not expect to hear at a classical performance. The music was arranged by Russell's friend Jerry Garcia, "but not the famous one," he was careful to point out with a grin.

Russell began with "Slip Jig," a fun and boisterous dance song with a driving rhythm that seemed well suited for an Irish pub. He ended the song by thumping his guitar percussively and then playing "My Gentle Heart," which was a mellower counterpart to the jig. Lastly, he played "The Fox of Oranmore," another vigorous dance song carried along by rhythmic strumming and blindingly fast 32nd note runs.

Called back for an encore by the whistling audience's standing ovation, Russell returned to play "An Alm for the Love of God," by August??n Barrios. The stylistic shift from the rowdy Celtic music did not make Russell falter in the slightest - his rendition of the Barrios piece was transcendent. When he was finished, the moments of silence that followed his last few notes hung heavy in the air before exploding into applause. Russell bowed several times, grinned widely and left the stage.

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