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Music review: David Russell in the John E. Marlow Guitar Series

By Joan Reinthaler,

An audience of real guitar devotees is not only quiet — it’s also still. Nothing moves. It’s almost eerie, as if everything in the outside world is suspended, as hundreds of people focus on the musical ideas flowing from the subtlest shadings of touch and the filigrees of delicate arpeggios. The John E. Marlow Guitar Series attracts such audiences and, for 20 years, has offered them a half-dozen fine performers a year from around the world.

On Saturday, it was David Russell — born in Scotland, brought up in Spain and trained in England — who commanded such rapt attention at the Westmoreland Congregational Church in Bethesda, with a program of gentle and introspective-sounding pieces by Giuliani, Scarlatti, Granados, Couperin and Assad.

He gave each of the eight waltzes of Granados’s “Valses Poeticos” its own nationalistic flavor, languished poetically over four of Couperin’s highly stylized “Vingt-Sixieme Ordre” and attended to the carefully crafted structures of two of Scarlatti’s sonatas. It was all quiet, all beautifully executed and all very restrained. Even the third of the six sets of Suites that Giuliani based on melodies from Rossini operas, and called “Rossiniana,” sounded like a delicate and detailed amble through music that, in Rossini’s original scores, was more of a romp.

Although a romp somewhere in the program would have been welcome, in such a restrained atmosphere, little things became exciting. The vibrato that colored Russell’s reading of Assad’s “Sandy’s Portrait” was suddenly eye-opening; Scarlatti’s unexpected key changes — no modulations, just sudden shifts — felt disorienting; and the extended cadence that ended the Giuliani Suite was a tantalizing teaser.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

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