The night before the finals, another of the undisputed highlights of the week-long convention was the much anticipated concert by David Russell who, along with Leo Brouwer, was also presented with a GFA Hall of Fame Award in a special presentation right after the finals competition. (Russell also presided over a master class the day before his concert.) Few would argue that Russell is among the top living guitarists, and that no doubt contributed to his drawing a packed and adoring house to his Friday night concert - many in the crowd were “civilians” not connected at all to the GFA convention, eager to see this modern master.

And he didn’t disappoint. The relaxed and genial guitarist played an extraordinary program that barely even brushed up against the 20th century - sensational readings of a full suite by Weiss; Three Sinfonias by Bach; “A Selection of Old Celtic Music” (three pairings of ageless, mournful Scottish ballads with brisk old Irish dances; an exception was the late, modern, English composer Peter Maxwell Davies’ lovely Farewell to Stromness in the Scottish slot for the third pair); and a really attractive and compelling eight-part suite by Stephen Goss called Cantigas de Santiago which was “contemporary” in the sense that Goss is still with us, but based largely on music from the Middle Ages. Goss and Russell both expounded on the origins of the piece and its historical influences; it’s always nice to hear the context of an unfamiiliar work. It completely captivated the audience before the intermission, drawing loud cheers and sustained applause. I got the sense that the audience would have been quite content to stay all night listening to this consummate guitarist play, but we settled for two encores: Barrios’ gorgeous tremolo workout Una limosna por el amor de Dios, and then, after the crowd simply would not leave, a mind-blowing excursion through Tárrega’s fabulously extravagant and virtuosic Gran Jota, which in Russell’s hands was just an easy stroll in the park he dispatched utter confidence and elan. I felt so fortunate to be there to see him!

Classical Guitar Magazine – June 24, 2018


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